Skin cancer, which is the most common form of cancer in the United States, is the result of the abnormal growth of skin cells. Skin cancer can affect skin anywhere on the body but most frequently appears on skin that is exposed to the sun. There are more than 1 million new cases of skin cancer in the United States each year.
Every day, skin cells die and new ones 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 refuse to die, which can cause a growth of tissue called 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.
There are three major types of skin cancer, and they affect different layers of the skin. They are named for the types of skin cells that become cancerous:
Basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell skin cancer occurs in the basal cell layer of the skin and is the most common type of skin cancer in people with fair skin. It commonly occurs in areas of the skin that have been exposed to the sun, such as the face. It rarely spreads to other parts of the body.
Squamous cell carcinoma
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. In people with fair skin, it usually occurs in sun-exposed areas such as on the face, head, ears, and neck. Squamous cell skin cancer can spread to other parts of the body.
Melanoma is the most aggressive type of cancer and the most likely to spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma occurs in the melanocyte (pigment) cells of the skin and can form on any part of the body, regardless of past sun exposure.
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:
To diagnose skin cancer, a doctor reviews all symptoms and checks the skin for any unusual growths or abnormal patches. If we suspect skin cancer, we perform a biopsy on the growth or area of skin in question. Once we review the biopsy results, we determine the type of cancer and create a treatment plan. People who experience any skin changes or have changes to existing moles or birthmarks should see a doctor as soon as possible. Early detection is the key to successfully treating skin cancer.
Treatment for skin cancer depends on the type, size, and location of the tumor. Most options include removal of the entire growth, which 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:
Although not all skin cancer can be prevented, the best way to avoid it is to protect your skin from the sun. Recommendations for preventing skin cancer include: