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Skin Cancer Information

What is Skin Cancer?

Cancer of the skin is the most common kind of cancer. And, because it is visible, it is the most easily diagnosed and treated. It is estimated that between 300,000 and 600,000 skin cancers are treated every year. With the exception of malignant melanoma, skin cancer is also the most curable of all cancers.

Skin cancer is a disease in which cancer (malignant) cells are found in the outer layers of the skin. The skin protects the body against heat, light, infection, and injury. It also stores water, fat, and vitamin D. The skin has 2 main layers and several kinds of cells. The top layer of skin is called the epidermis. It contains 3 kinds of cells: flat, scaly cells on the surface called squamous cells; round cells called basal cells; and cells called melanocytes, which give the skin its color.

The inner layer of skin is called the dermis. This layer is thicker, and contains blood vessels, nerves, and sweat glands. The hair on the skin also grows from tiny pockets in the dermis, called follicles. The dermis makes sweat, which helps to cool the body, and oils that keep the skin from drying out.

There are several types of cancer that start in the skin. The most common are basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer. These types of skin cancer are called nonmelanoma skin cancer. Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that starts in the melanocytes. It is not as common as basal cell or squamous cell skin cancer, but it is much more serious.

Skin cancer is more common in people with light colored skin who have spent a lot of time in the sunlight. Skin cancer can occur anywhere on the body, but it is most common in places that have been exposed to more sunlight, such as the face, neck, hands, and arms.

Skin cancer can look many different ways. The most common sign of skin cancer is a change on the skin, such as a growth or a sore that won't heal. Sometimes a symptom of skin cancer may be a small lump. This lump can be smooth, shiny and waxy looking, or it can be red or reddish brown. Skin cancer may also appear as a flat red spot that is rough or scaly. Not all changes in the skin are the result of skin cancer, but a doctor should be seen if changes in the skin are noticed.

If there is a spot or lump on the skin, a doctor may remove the growth and look at the tissue under a microscope. This is called a biopsy. A biopsy can usually be done in a doctor's office. Before the biopsy, the patient will be given a local anesthetic to numb the area for a short period of time. Most nonmelanoma skin cancers can be cured. The chance of recovery (prognosis) and choice of treatment depend on the type of skin cancer and how far it has spread. Other kinds of cancer that may affect the skin include cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph system, and Kaposi's sarcoma. Cancers that start in other parts of the body may also spread (metastasize) to the skin.

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