Cancer is a disease in which the cells become abnormal and form more cells in an uncontrolled way. With skin cancer, the cancer begins in cells that make up the skin. The skin is our body’s largest organ. This organ protects us against heart, light and infection. It regulates body temperature and stores water, fat, and vitamin D. With skin cancer, new cells form when the skin does not need them, and old cells do not die when they should. These extra cells form a mass of tissue called a tumor. Though, not all tumors are cancer. Tumors that are cancer can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs, and sometimes can spread to other parts of the body.
Skin cancers are named for the type of cells where the cancer starts. The three types of cancer are:
Basal cell carcinoma – occurs on parts of the body that is exposed to a lot sun, such as the face. It is slow growing and rarely spreads to other parts of the body.
Squamous cell carcinoma – also occurs on parts of the skin that have been in the sun. But also can be found on parts of the skin not exposed to the sun. This cancer can spread to other organs inside the body.
Melanoma – the most serious type of cancer. This cancer is likely to spread to other parts of the body if not caught and treated early. Melanoma is much less common than other types of skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. About one million Americans get some form of skin cancer ever year. The number of new cases of skin cancer appears to be rising each year. The number of deaths due to skin cancer, though, is fairly small. The good news is that skin cancer is nearly 100% curable if found early and treated promptly.
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the main cause of skin cancer. Other sources of US radiation, such as sunlamps and tanning beds, also can cause skin cancer. Although anyone can get skin cancer, the risk is greatest for people who have:
• Skin that tans poorly or burns easily
• A large number of moles, especially abnormal moles
Most skin cancers appear after age 50. But the sun’s damaging effects begin at an early age. So, protection should start in childhood to prevent skin cancer later in life.