Skin Cancer Info


How Skin Cancer Forms

Cancer of the skin, like other cancers, is a disease of cells, which are tiny structures that make up all parts of the body. Although they differ in shape and function in various organs, all cells reproduce themselves by dividing. Normal growth and repair of tissue takes place in this orderly fashion.

When cell division is not orderly and controlled, abnormal growth occurs. Masses of tissue called tumors build up. Tumors can be benign or malignant. A malignant tumor is a cancer.

Benign tumors do not spread. But cancerous or malignant tumors invade and destroy surrounding normal tissue as they grow. Occasionally, cancer cells may break away from the tumor and spread (metastasize) through either the blood or lymphatic vessels to distant parts of the body, where they form additional tumors.


Types of Skin Cancer

There are three primary forms of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma. Most cases of skin cancer are either basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma. Of the two, basal cell carcinoma occurs more frequently and grows more slowly. It rarely spreads through the blood or lymphatic systems to distant parts of the body.

Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common skin cancer. It is more serious, since it has a greater ability to spread internally to nearby lymph nodes and to other parts of the body.

Malignant melanoma may be life threatening if not treated early. It usually appears as a brown and/or black spot or bump in the skin that enlarges and sometimes bleeds. Sometimes melanomas arise in moles that have been present for many years.


Causes of Skin Cancer

Exposure to the sun is the leading cause of skin cancer, which commonly develops on the face, neck and arms, and the most sunexposed areas of the body. Fair skinned people develop skin cancer more frequently than darkskinned people do. Cancers of the skin are most common in the southern United States.

Skin cancer also can be hereditary and occurs very frequently in certain ethnic groups, particularly those with fair complexion such as Northern Italians, Scandinavians and Celtics (especially Irish and AngloSaxons). Other possible causes of skin cancer include Xrays, chronic injury and certain chemicals.


Signs of Skin Cancer

Although most skin growths are benign, any new growth on the skin or a sore that does not heal should be brought to your dermatologist’s attention.

Skin cancer has many different appearances. It may begin as a small, waxy lump that eventually bleeds and crusts; as a dry, scaly, red patch, or in several other ways. Although it may begin very small, skin cancer can grow to become very, large.

Skin cancer sometimes forms from a noncancerous skin condition called actinic keratosis. These are red, rough patches of skin that develop as a result of sun damage and are commonly found on the face, neck or hands.

If the doctor thinks that a skin growth may be cancerous, a biopsy is performed. The whole area or a sample of the area is removed surgically and sent for examination under the microscope. The biopsy is used to confirm or rule out a diagnosis of cancer and to determine the type of any cancer found.