Skin cancer happens when there is an uncontrolled growth of cancer cells in the skin. When untreated, there are types of skin cancer that can spread to other organs and tissues like your lymph nodes and bones.
Skin cancer is common in America, 1 out of 5 Americans are affected during their lifetimes according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Our skin is the first line of protection against things like water loss, bacteria, and other harmful contaminants. There are two layers on your skin: a thicker layer called the dermis and an outer layer known as your epidermis.
Your epidermis has three major types of cells. The outer layer is made up of squamous cells which are always shedding and turning over.
The deeper layer is the basal layer which is made up of basal cells. There are melanocytes which are cells that produce melanin or the pigment that gives you your skin color.
These cells make more melanin when you are exposed to the sun causing a darker skin layer. This is how your body protects you and is a sign that you are getting sun damage.
Your epidermis is always in contact with the environment. It sheds skin cells regularly, but it can sustain damage from the sun, cuts, scrapes, and infection.
The skin cells that remain are always multiplying to replace the discarded skin, and they sometimes reproduce excessively resulting in a skin tumor that may either be benign or cancerous.
Here are common types of skin masses:
Also known as solar ketosis, this appears as a pink or red rough patch of skin on sun-exposed parts of the body. They occur due to exposure to UV light from the sun. This condition is the most common form of pre-cancer and can turn into squamous cell carcinoma if untreated.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
This type is the most common skin cancer which accounts for 90% of all cases of skin cancer. Usually found in the head and neck, basal cell carcinoma is a slow-growing cancer that does not often affect the other parts of the body.
You will notice it as a raised, pearly or waxy pink bump usually having a dimple in the center. It can also appear translucent showing blood vessels near the skin’s surface.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
This condition affects cells in the outer layer of your epidermis. It is generally more aggressive than basal cell carcinoma and can spread to other parts of your body if not treated.
It appears as scaly, red and rough skin lesions on sun-exposed areas like head, hands, neck, lips, and ears.
Melanoma is a less common type of cancer than basal and squamous cell carcinoma. It is so far the most dangerous among the types. It is the leading cause of all skin cancer associated deaths at 73% mortality rate.
It occurs in the skin cells or melanocytes that produce pigment. A mole is an example of a benign collection of melanocytes that are common in most people.
Melanoma is suspected if a mole has:
Color that is inconsistent
Diameter bigger than 6 mm
Evolving shape or size
Four Major Types of Melanoma
Nodular melanoma: dark blue, black or reddish blue or may not have any color at all, it starts as a raised patch
Superficial spreading melanoma: a common type of melanoma; lesions are flat, irregularly shaped and has varying shades of black and brown
Lentigo maligna melanoma: common among the elderly; has large, flat and brownish lesions
Acral lentiginous melanoma: least common type which affects the palms, soles of the feet or under finger and toenails
Although not considered as skin cancer, this condition is another type of cancer that involves skin lesions that are brownish red to blue in color found on feet and legs. It affects the cells that line blood vessels close to the skin. This type of cancer is caused by a type of herpes virus usually in patients with weak immune systems like those with AIDS.
Risk factors for skin cancer include:
extended exposure to UV rays from sunlight
for those over the age of 40
if your family has a history of skin cancers
if you have fair skin
if you received an organ transplant
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