Skin Cancer

Skin cancer, which is the most common form of cancer in the United States, is the result of the abnormal growth of skin cells. Cancer can affect skin anywhere on the body, but most frequently appears on skin that is exposed to the sun. There are more than a million new cases of skin cancer in the United States each year.

What causes Skin Cancer?

Every day, skin cells die and new ones form to replace them in a process controlled by DNA. Skin cancer can form when this process does not work properly because of damage to DNA. New cells may form when they are not needed, or older cells may not die, both of which can cause a growth of tissue known as a tumor. DNA damage is often a result of ultraviolet radiation from sunlight or tanning lamps. In some cases, skin cancer affects areas of the skin that have not been exposed to the sun. Certain factors, such as fair skin, moles, a weakened immune system, heredity and age, also increase the risk of skin cancer.

Types of Skin Cancer

There are three major types of skin cancer, and they affect different layers of the skin. They are named for the different types of skin cells that become cancerous.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

BCCs are abnormal, uncontrolled growths or lesions that arise in the skin’s basal cells, which line the deepest layer of the epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin). BCCs often look like open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps, or scars and are usually caused by a combination of cumulative and intense, occasional sun exposure.
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Melanoma

Melanoma is a potentially life-threatening skin cancer of the melanocytes, the cells that make melanin (brown pigment). Melanoma’s fatality rate is higher than that of basal cell and squamous cell cancers…
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Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

Squamous cell carcinoma occurs in the squamous cells, and is the most common type of skin cancer in people with dark skin, who typically get it in places, such as the legs or feet, that have not been exposed to the sun.
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What are the symptoms of Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is often identified as a new or changed growth on the skin of the scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms, hands or legs. Although these are common areas for skin-cancer growths to form, they can occur anywhere, and manifest themselves as the following:

  • Pearly or waxy bump
  • Flesh-colored or brown scar-like lesion
  • Firm, red nodule
  • Crusted, flat lesion
  • Large brown spot with darker speckles
  • Shiny, firm bumps

A mole that changes shape or color can also indicate skin cancer.

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To diagnose skin cancer, a doctor reviews all symptoms, and checks the skin for any unusual growths or abnormal patches of skin. If skin cancer is suspected, a biopsy is performed on the growth or area of skin in question. Once the results of the biopsy are reviewed, the type of cancer can be determined, and a treatment plan created. Those who experience any skin changes, or have changes to existing moles or birthmarks, should see a doctor as soon as possible; early detection is key in successfully treating skin cancer.

Treatment for skin cancer depends on the type, size and location of the tumor. Most options include the removal of the entire growth, and are effective forms of treatment. Removal procedures are usually simple, requiring only a local anesthetic in an outpatient setting. Some of the treatment options for skin cancer include the following:

  • Freezing
  • Excision
  • Laser therapy
  • Mohs surgery

Depending on the stage and severity of the skin cancer, in addition to removal of the growth, chemotherapy and radiation may be recommended.

Although not every case of skin cancer can be prevented, the best way to avoid it is to protect skin from the sun. Recommendations for preventing skin cancer include the following:

  • Limit exposure to the skin, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Always wear sun screen with an SPF of at least 15
  • Wear a hat in the sun
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants
  • Avoid tanning beds and salons

Performing routine self-exams to spot skin changes, and seeing a dermatologist for a full-body screening on a regular basis, is also recommended.

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