The Lowdown on Skin Cancer

Skin is our largest organ and one that is not immune to developing cancerous cells. Skin cancer develops when damaged cells start growing and dividing uncontrollably in the skin. This form of cancer is the most prevalent with more than one million cases in the United States diagnosed each year. Here we will cover some of the commonly asked questions about skin cancer.

What Are The Different Forms of Skin Cancer?

There are different types of skin cancer with three forms accounting for almost all of the diagnosed cases. They are:

* Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)- Accounting for nearly 80% of skin cancer, BCC develops in the basal cells which are located in the lowest layer of the epidermis. It is commonly found on areas of the body regularly exposed to the sun such as your face, head and upper body. Signs of BCC include skin that appears as a sore that repeatedly heals and re-opens, a slightly elevated pink growth, patch of irritated skin that is red in color and/or shiny translucent skin. This type of cancer does not commonly spread but should be treated to protect surrounding tissue.

* Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)- Found in the uppermost layers of the epidermis, SCC cancer affects squamous cells. Long term exposure to the sun can result in this form of cancer in middle to elderly aged individuals. The skin may appear to have an inflamed base with a crusty or scaly area over the base. While this cancer is most commonly found on areas of the body exposed to the sun, it can be found anywhere. Early detection and treatment can prevent this form of cancer from spreading.

* Melanoma- The most dangerous and lethal form of skin cancer, this form accounts for only 4% of diagnosed cases. Melanoma readily spreads to other areas of your body such as your lymph system or other internal organs. Most commonly found in moles either pre-existing or new, melanoma has a 95% cure rate if caught in time for treatment. It is important that you are aware of any moles on your body and what they look like so you can spot changes in existing moles or the appearance of new moles. Undetected and untreated, melanoma becomes very difficult to treat and can result in death.

Who Gets Skin Cancer?

To be quite honest, anyone can get skin cancer. There are however certain individuals who are at a higher risk than others. The following factors play a role in the likelihood of developing skin cancer:

* Individuals who are fair-skinned or burn easily.
* People who use tanning devices.
* Genetics or family history of the disease.
* Certain occupational exposures, i.e. coal tar, pitch, creosote, arsenic or radium.
* Excessive exposure to UV radiation.

Exposure to the sun is the leading cause of skin cancer which makes protecting your skin from sun exposure vitally important.

Can You Prevent Skin Cancer?

Yes, you can take precautions that lower your risk of developing skin cancer. Take all effort to reduce your exposure to sun and other controllable risk factors. This includes wearing SPF 15 or higher sunscreen everyday in addition to sunglasses and brimmed hats to shield your face from the sun. If at all possible avoid exposing your skin to sunlight during the peak of the day (10am-4pm) and give up tanning beds as they can also damage your skin.

For more information on skin cancer you can visit the American Cancer Society or National Cancer Institute.

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