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Skin Cancer

There are several types of skin cancer. Skin cancer that forms in melanocytes (skin cells that make pigment) is called melanoma. Skin cancer that forms in basal cells (small, round cells in the base of the outer layer of skin) is called basal cell carcinoma. Skin cancer that forms in squamous cells (flat cells that form the surface of the skin) is called squamous cell carcinoma. Skin cancer that forms in neuroendocrine cells (cells that release hormones in response to signals from the nervous system) is called neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin. Most skin cancers form in older people on parts of the body exposed to the sun or in people who have weakened immune systems.

The two most common types of skin cancer are basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer. These cancers usually form on the head, face, neck, hands, and arms. These areas are exposed to the sun, but skin cancer can occur anywhere. Basal cell skin cancer grows slowly. It usually occurs on areas of the skin that have been in the sun. It is most common on the face. Basal cell cancer rarely spreads to other parts of the body. Squamous cell skin cancer also occurs on parts of the skin that have been in the sun, but it also may be in places that are not in the sun. Squamous cell cancer sometimes spreads to lymph nodes and organs inside the body.

Research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop skin cancer. Some of these risk factors are ultraviolet radiation, scars or burns on the skin, infection, exposure to arsenic, chronic skin inflammation or skin ulcers, diseases that make the skin sensitive to the sun, radiation therapy, medical conditions or drugs that suppress the immune system, personal history of one or more skin cancers, and family history of skin cancer. The best way to prevent skin cancer is to protect yourself from the sun and use sunscreen lotions.

If found and treated early most basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers can be cured. Changes on the skin are the most common signs of skin cancer. This may consist of a new growth, a sore that doesn’t heal, or a change in an old growth. Skin changes to watch for are small, smooth, shiny, pale, or waxy lump; firm, red lump; sore or lump that bleeds or develops a crust or a scab; flat red spot that is rough, dry, or scaly and may become itchy or tender; red or brown patch that is rough and scaly. Sometimes skin cancer is painful, but usually is not.

If you notice changes on the skin the doctor must find out whether it is due to skin cancer or something else. The doctor will remove all or part of the area that does not look normal by a procedure called a biopsy. This will then be sent to a lab for a pathologist to check for skin cancer. A biopsy is the only sure way to diagnose skin cancer. If the biopsy shows you have cancer, the doctor will then need to know the extent or stage of the disease. The stage is determined by the size of the growth, how deeply it has grown beneath the top layer of the skin, and whether it has spread to nearby lymph nodes or to other parts of the body. Once diagnosis and staging is done your doctor will go over treatment options with you.

Sometimes all of the cancer is removed during the biopsy and no additional treatment is needed. Treatment for the disease depends on the type and stage of the disease, the size and place of the growth, and your general health and medical history. Treatment options include surgery, topical chemotherapy, photodynamic therapy, or radiation therapy.

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