Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the world. More than 2 million cases of this disease are diagnosed each year, and if not detected early, it can lead to surgery and even death. Every year, between 40 and 50% of all cancers are diagnosed as skin cancer. There are two main types of skin cancer; malignant melanoma and non-melanoma. The most common types of non-melanoma cancers are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, and approximately 79% of malignant melanoma cases are associated with death. These cancers represent only 4% of all skin cancers, but are by far the most dangerous. Melanoma is more likely than non-melanoma to spread to lymph nodes and other parts of the body. It is estimated that more than 12,000 people will die this year with some form of skin cancer.
The skin is the largest organ in the human body, measuring about twenty square meters for the average adult. It can be considered the most resilient organ in the human body. The skin is divided into layers; the epidermis (upper), the basement membrane, the dermis, and the hypodermis/subcutis. It covers the internal organs and bones, protecting them from injuries and germs, and prevents the loss of too much fluid. The skin is vital in controlling body temperature and removing some waste through perspiration. Certain cells in the skin communicate with the brain to enable temperature, touch and pain sensations.
Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells that, if left unchecked, spread from the skin to other tissues and organs of the body. As time goes by, more cases of skin cancer are being diagnosed. Studies have shown that heavy exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation (UVR) leads to skin cancer and other skin problems. These studies have shown that 65 to 90% of melanomas are caused by excessive exposure to ultraviolet light (sun, tanning bed and tanning bed lamps), but it has also been shown to run in families and may also be genetic.
The second most common form of skin cancer is squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), with approximately 700,000 cases diagnosed each year with approximately 2,500 deaths. It is one of the less aggressive skin cancers because, when detected early, it can be easily controlled or removed with minor surgery. This cancer is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that arise in the squamous cells, which make up most of the epidermis (upper layers) of the skin.
This type of cancer is primarily caused by cumulative UVR exposure over a lifetime and may not occur until many years after the original skin damage develops, making it necessary to see a dermatologist at the first sign. The most common areas for this cancer are those that are frequently exposed to the sun, such as the edge of the ear, lower lip, face, bald scalp, neck, hands, arms, and legs. Skin damage can appear as wrinkles, changes in pigmentation and loss of skin elasticity.
Exposure to UVR is the cause of most cases of squamous cell cancer. The condition arises when UV radiation damages the DNA in an individual’s skin cells. The more damage to the DNA, the more likely the skin cells will grow out of control and develop squamous cell carcinoma. Most cases of squamous cell cancer can be prevented and there are several ways to do this; by applying sunscreen, wearing protective clothing, avoiding midday sun, limiting your time in direct sunlight, not using a tanning bed or lamps, and checking your skin regularly.
Squamous cell cancer is an easily treated and preventable type of skin cancer. However, it can still be fatal and needs to be detected and treated early. Squamous cell cancer very rarely causes further problems if detected and treated early. Left untreated, it can grow large or spread to other parts of your body, causing serious complications. Call for an appointment with your healthcare provider if you notice a sore or blemish on your skin that changes in: appearance, color, size, texture, or if an existing spot becomes sore, swollen, or begins to bleed or itch.
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