Skin Cancer

Overview

Skin cancer is a form of cancer caused by the abnormal growth of skin cells, usually as a result of too much ultraviolet (UV) light exposure. UV light can come from the sun, tanning beds, or sun lamps. There are several different types of skin cancer, but the most common are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. While some forms of skin cancer are curable, some, such as melanoma, can be deadly. Skin cancer can be prevented by wearing sunscreen and protective clothing and by taking measures to stay out of the sun when possible.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Skin cancer is most common on areas of the body that are regularly exposed to the sun, including the face, neck, scalp, lips, and ears. However, it can also form on parts of the body that are rarely exposed to sunlight, such as under fingernails or on the palms of hands. Basal cell carcinoma is a common form of skin cancer that can look like a waxy, pearly bump or a flat, flesh-colored or brown mark on the skin. Squamous cell carcinoma is another type of skin cancer that forms a red bump or flat, scaly lesion. Melanoma, a very serious type of skin cancer, may look like an abnormally shaped or colored mole, a large freckle, a bump with an odd border and color, or dark marks on the palms of the hands, bottoms of the feet, fingertips, or toes, or on the lining of the mouth, nose, vagina, or anus. Women often get melanoma on the legs as well. Other, rare types of skin cancer include Kaposi sarcoma, Merkel cell carcinoma, and sebaceous gland carcinoma.

Early diagnosis and treatment are important to keep the cancer from spreading to other organs and tissues. A dermatologist usually diagnoses skin cancer based on examination of the skin and a biopsy of suspicious lesions. If a biopsy confirms that cancer is present, the dermatologist may do further testing of the skin to determine the type of cancer and whether it has spread.

Causes

Skin cancer occurs when skin cells become mutated and grow abnormally. There are three types of skin cells in the epidermis (top skin layer) that become cancerous: squamous cells, basal cells, and melanocytes. Most skin cancers are caused by damage to skin cells resulting from too much exposure to the UV rays in sunlight and tanning beds. However, other factors may be involved because cancer can also occur in areas of the skin that are not exposed to UV radiation.

While anyone can get skin cancer, some people are at higher risk, such as those who have naturally light skin, a family history of skin cancer, light hair or eyes, or moles and freckles. Having a history of blistering sunburns or exposure to radiation – such as that used in treating acne – may also increase the risk of skin cancer. Continue reading for Prevention and Treatment Information . . .

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