Most often, skin cancer in the arm is basal cell cancer, squamous cell cancer, or melanoma. Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers are common and highly curable. Melanoma is less common and more likely to spread, which makes it more dangerous.
The visual symptoms of skin cancer on the arm can vary, but they are often spots or moles of an unusual size, shape, and color. Sometimes these areas can bleed, be painful, or be itchy. Although researchers have identified many risk factors for skin cancer, they are still working to understand how these factors cause cancer and to find ways to prevent it. This article presents the types of skin cancer in the arm along with the causes, risk factors and prevention.
What does skin cancer on the arm look like?
Typically, arm skin cancer presents as a spot, mole, bump, or lesion that is unusual in size, color, or texture. The key word here is “unusual”. Not all spots that appear on the arm are cancerous. For example, small flat spots of uniform color are not unusual. They are common and usually harmless. Spots or lesions that are large, variable in color, raised, or irregular in texture are more likely to be skin cancers. For people with darker skin, it may be easier to feel the spot or lesion on the arm than to see it.
Types of skin cancer
Skin cancer can develop anywhere on the body, but some types usually develop on skin exposed to the sun. The two most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).
Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma, also called basal cell skin cancer, starts in the lower part of the epidermis. It usually develops on the areas of the skin most exposed to the sun. Basal cell cancer grows slowly and usually does not spread to other parts of the body if treated in time.
SCC, also called squamous cell cancer, begins in the outer part of the epidermis. Like BCC, SCC usually develops on areas of the skin most exposed to the sun. However, it can also form on:
chronic skin wounds
scars on other areas of the skin
the skin of the genital area (less often).
BCC and SCC can have the following characteristics:
flat, firm areas of skin that look like scars
raised patches of skin that may itch
small pearly bumps with black, brown, or blue areas
growths with raised edges, lowered centers, and surrounded by abnormal-looking blood vessels
open sores that do not heal or that heal and then reappear.
Melanoma is another type of skin cancer that can develop on the arm. Melanoma begins in melanocytes. Melanocytes are cells of the basal layer which generally produce melanin, the origin of skin pigmentation. Melanoma can develop anywhere on the skin where melanocytes begin to grow out of control. Typically, melanoma presents as an atypical mole. Brown moles, freckles, and other spots are common and often harmless. Although less common than BCC and SCC, melanoma is much more dangerous because it is more likely to spread to other parts of the body if not detected and treated in time.
Other types of skin cancer
The following types of skin cancer can develop on the arm but account for less than 1% of skin cancers:
Merkel cell carcinoma
adnexal skin tumors
Also, some types of sarcomas can grow on or spread to the arm.
Anyone can develop skin cancer, but some people are at higher risk.
This is the case of people who have:
lighter skin tones
blue, green, or other light-colored eyes
blonde or red hair
skin that freckles, reddens, or burns easily
a history of severe sunburn during adolescence
certain types of moles
a personal or family history of skin cancer
having been exposed to arsenic
a weakened immune system or taking medications that suppress the immune system
have received radiotherapy in the past.
Also, the risk of developing skin cancer increases with age. For example, the average age of melanoma diagnosis is 65 years old.
Currently, there is no sure way to prevent skin cancer and there are not enough studies on how to reduce the risk. However, since most skin cancers develop from ultraviolet rays, skin experts recommend limiting sun exposure, especially on days when the ultraviolet (UV) index is high.
Sun exposure can be limited by:
avoiding the sun during peak hours, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
wearing protective clothing, such as hats, sunglasses, and long sleeves
apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30
stay in the shade when outdoors
be careful with water, sand and snow due to their reflective properties.
Also, experts agree that indoor tanning is best avoided altogether due to the higher risk of cancer.
When to contact a doctor
Anyone who notices the visual signs of skin cancer listed above should contact their doctor or a dermatologist. However, not all skin cancers present the same way. This is why a person can contact their doctor if they notice any unusual changes to the skin on their arm, including:
a mole that changes size, shape, or color
a spot with redness or swelling that extends from its edge
a spot that looks different from other spots on the body
an itchy, painful or tender spot that does not heal or heals but comes back
a mole that begins to ooze or bleed, becomes scaly, or looks like a lump or lump.
A person should tell the doctor if they have any risk factors for skin cancer, such as a family history or personal history of severe sunburn.
BCC and SCC are highly curable, especially with early treatment. Melanoma is also very curable in the early stages. However, it is more likely to spread to other parts of the body, which affects the outlook. The relative survival rate indicates how long a person with a particular disease lives after diagnosis, compared to people without it.
The 5-year relative survival rate for people with melanoma is:
Localized melanoma that has not spread: 99.5%.
Regional melanoma that has spread to regional lymph nodes: 70.6%.
Distant cancer that has spread to other areas: 31.9%
Regardless of the type of skin cancer on the arm, the earlier the treatment, the better the outlook.
BCC, SCC, and melanoma are common skin cancers that can develop in sun-exposed areas, such as the arm. They may present as unusual skin lesions that may vary in appearance depending on skin color. Skin cancer can be prevented by covering your skin, using sunscreen and getting in the shade.
The outlook is generally good as long as the cancer does not spread and the person receives prompt treatment.