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HomeHealth A-Z Skin Cancer
Skin Cancer
Skin Cancer
Staying out of the sun between the hours of 11am and 3pm can drastically reduce your risk of developing skin cancer due to sun exposure.

Skin Cancer

(SKIN KAN-sur)

Definition of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is a type of cancer that grows in the skin cells, commonly caused by exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays. Cancer is a disease caused by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. There are three common types of skin cancer - basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma - which are named after the type of skin cell.

Description of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer usually occurs on the top layer of skin, also known as the epidermis. The growth is malignant and because it will generally occur on the epidermis the tumor can easily be seen by the individual and diagnosed by a doctor. Luckily, being able to see the tumor allows for diagnosis to be made sooner rather than later so treatment can be sought. Unfortunately, skin cancer is becoming more and more common in the United States and is more common than lung, breast, colon, and prostate cancer. It is estimated that more than 1 million people will be diagnosed with skin cancer in the year 2007. The reason that skin cancer is becoming more common is because we are exposed to more and more ultraviolet radiation than we have in the past! Simply staying out of the sun and taking precautions can help reduce the risk of skin cancer in many individuals.

There are many types of skin cancer, a few of which are basal cell carcinoma or BBC, squamous cell carcinoma or SCC, and malignant melanoma which can be fatal if the skin cancer is not treated as soon as possible. Other forms of skin cancer include dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans, markel carcinoma, and Kaposi's sarcoma.

Causes and Risk Factors of Skin Cancer

There are many causes and risk factors associated with skin cancer. Skin cancer most commonly affects those that have inflamed or irritated skin. One of the most common causes of skin cancer is skin damage due to sun, especially if the damage is caused during the early years of one's life. It is known that UVA and UVB rays are responsible for much of the damage, actually causing damage to the DNA, which eventually results in skin cancer. It's important for individuals to know that that the sun, as well as tanning salons are responsible for these harmful rays.

In addition to sun damage, wounds that do not heal are also responsible for incidents of skin cancer. Burns are a common cause for these non-healing wounds and often become a Marjolin's Ulcer. Of course, genetics also come into play. Those that are born with moles or have large moles measuring more than 20 millimeters or 2 centimeters are most likely to develop skin cancer as a result.

Symptoms of Skin Cancer

Because there are different types of skin cancer there are a wide variety of symptoms that may occur. Some of these symptoms are sores, changes in the skin that will not heal, ulcers in or on the skin, changes in existing moles such as growth or a change in color or texture, as well as portions of the skin that become discolored.

Those that have squamous cell carcinoma will generally see a scaly, red, thick patch of skin and it is generously a part of the skin that is exposed to the sun. If this type of skin cancer is not detected and treated right away it can grow and become a relatively large mass.

Melanomas are quite distinctive in their appearance as they are generally brown or black looking lesions on the skin. These lesions generally will become more noticeable to the individual because they will change in color, size, shape or elevation of a mole. Also, the mole may become sore, itchy and this is an indication that the mole needs to be seen by a doctor.

Those that have basal cell carcinoma will usually see a bump on the skin on the shoulders, neck, or head. The bump is usually raised and quite smooth and occasionally the individual will actually see blood vessels within the bump. Many individuals report bleeding from the tumor but simply assume that it is a sore that is having a hard time healing.

Diagnosis of Skin Cancer

The diagnosis of skin cancer is actually quite simple. Most of the time a doctor can give a preliminary diagnosis simply by looking at the tumor and even by doing some blood work to see what sort of cells and antibodies are present in the body. The earlier a diagnosis is made the easier treatment is, so anyone that suspects that they may have some sort of skin cancer or simply sees something unusual on the surface of or just below the surface of the skin should get to their doctor as soon as possible for a physical examination and perhaps even some blood tests to determine the best course of action.

Treatment of Skin Cancer

Luckily, most skin cancers can be treated by simply removing the lesion or tumor. When lesions or tumors are removed some of the surrounding skin has to be removed as well to be sure that all of the cancerous cells are removed to prevent a recurrence of the cancer. Another treatment options is a combination of radiation therapy and cryo-therapy. Cryo-therapy is the freezing off of the tumor to gain control of the disease and the radiation therapy will shrink and eliminate any existing cells.

Another treatment option is one that removes the smallest amount of the tissue around the tumor as is possible. The technique is known as Moh's Microsurgery and is a great option to check the tissue for cancer cells, but it is not very invasive and the cure rates are the same as when the wide excision techniques are used. Moh's Microsurgery works best when the tumor has not metastasized, and if it has chemotherapy will be needed in addition to the surgery.

Prevention of Skin Cancer

Prevention is quite simple for most people and may simply require some changes in routine. Experts report that the sun is most harmful between the hours of 11am and 3pm and staying out of the sun during this time can drastically reduce your risk of developing skin cancer due to sun exposure. If you do have to be in the sun protective clothing such as long sleeves and hats can help, and this is in addition to using sunscreen as directed by the manufacturer. Sun screen should actually be worn everyday, rain or shine, all year long.

External Resources

The Skin Cancer Foundation

National Cancer Institute

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