The skin is the largest organ in the human body. It weighs about six pounds and performs many incredible, life-sustaining functions. Skin helps shield against heat and light, protect from injury and infection, regulate body temperature, store water and fat, and make vitamin D. That’s why it’s so important to take care of your skin and slather on the sun screen, dress to protect against harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, and reduce your risk of skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, it affects more than one million Americans each year and accounts for nearly half of all cancers in the United States. Approximately 11,590 people die from the disease annually.
There are three main types of skin cancer, basal cell, squamous cell, and melanoma. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. It tends to grow slowly on areas exposed to the sun, such as the head and neck, and rarely spreads to other parts of the body. Basal cell cancer can recur; approximately half of people treated for the disease will develop a new skin cancer within five years.
Squamous cell carcinoma usually appears on skin areas exposed to the sun and can spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma is a potentially deadly form of skin cancer that can appear suddenly or start near or in a mole, or another dark area of skin.
People at increased risk for developing skin cancer tend to have:
- A fair complexion and family history of the disease.
- Many or atypical-shaped moles.
- Severe sunburns during childhood.
- Excessive or unprotected exposure to ultraviolet radiation.
- Exposure through work to coal tar, pitch, creosote, arsenic compounds, or radium.
Skin cancers usually are not painful, but they can cause a change in the appearance of the skin or a sore that does not heal. Skin cancers do not all look the same. Some can start as a small, waxy, shiny lump, while others begin as a flat, scaly, red spot.
Most skin cancers are treated by surgically removing the growth. Options include excisional surgery (removing the cancer with a scalpel), Mohs surgery (shaving away thin layers of the growth), cryosurgery (applying extreme cold to the growth), or laser surgery (using a narrow light beam to remove or destroy cancer cells).
The best way to lower your risk of developing skin cancer is to protect yourself from UV light. Slather on a generous amount of water-resistant sunscreen, avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when it is the most intense, wear protective clothing such as a long-sleeve shirt and a wide-brimmed hat, try to stay in the shade when possible, wear sunglasses with 99 to 100 percent UV absorption, and avoid tanning beds.
If you notice a change in the appearance of your skin, see your doctor. Skin cancer is highly curable when detected early and treated properly. For more information about skin cancer, talk with your doctor or call 1-866-904-9262 for a free referral to a dermatologist near you.
All photos of models shown are for illustrative purposes only. Not actual patients.