Skin cancer is the most common kind of cancer in both the United States and globally. In fact, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year than all other cancers combined.
In the U.S. alone, over 9,500 people are diagnosed with it every single day – over 3.4 million people every year. On average, one in five people will develop skin cancer before the age of 70.
Our bodies are composed of millions of living cells, and they grow, divide, and die in an orderly fashion. Cancerous cells, however, grow abnormally – they grow and divide, but don’t die. Additionally, cancer cells can invade adjoining tissues and travel to other areas of the body via the bloodstream or lymphatic vessels (metastasize).
Skin cancer occurs in the epidermis, the outermost layer of skin. There are many different types of skin cancer, but they are all caused by rogue cells created by unrepaired DNA, which causes mutations. These mutations proliferate and form malignant tumors. The three most common types of skin cancer are:
Skin cancer is usually asymptomatic in the beginning, but one of the most common symptoms is a noticeable change in your skin. Some of the most recognizable warning signs include:
Although melanoma is less frequent than basal or squamous cell carcinomas, it tends to be far more deadly because it spreads to the blood or lymphatic vessels faster. Melanoma develops from melanocytes – skin cells that produce pigment. Melanomas generally resemble moles and occasionally may arise from them, even in areas not regularly exposed to the sun. Early detection of melanoma is critical, and when found early, the 5-year survival rate is 99%.
One way to ensure early detection of melanoma is through the A-B-C-D-E warning signs, as follows:
In addition to this, the most common form of precancer is actinic (solar) keratosis (AK). It is prevalent – affecting 58 million Americans. AKs usually appear as small, dry, scaly, or crusty patches of skin. They can range in color and can be either flat or raised. Due to their rough texture, they are typically easier to feel than to see. AKs are most often found on sun-exposed areas of the face, lips, ears, scalp, shoulders, neck, and back of the hands or forearms.
Other common premalignant skin tumors include:
Those who spend large amounts of time in the sun or UV light (such as tanning beds) are at a much higher risk of developing any form of skin cancer. Having even just five sunburns in your life doubles your risk of developing skin cancer. Additionally, it is inversely related to the level of pigmentation you have – those with fairer skin are most susceptible.
While exposure to sun and UV light is the most common risk factor, skin cancer can also develop from years of therapeutic x-rays or exposure to carcinogens such as arsenic ingestion. Other risk factors include a family history of skin cancers, a tendency to freckle or burn easily, and patients with cancer, autoimmune diseases, organ transplants, or those taking immunosuppressive drugs.
One of the best things you can do for your skin is to protect it from the sun because most skin cancers are directly related to ultraviolet (UV) exposure. Here are some helpful tips for reducing your exposure:
Skin cancer is highly preventable and, when found early, is also highly treatable. To ensure early detection, we recommend that you perform thorough skin checks at least once per month. Do these in a well-lit room in front of a full-length mirror if possible. Check your entire body for new or suspicious changes to your skin, such as moles and rough patches of skin. If you find anything new or concerning, contact your doctor as soon as possible so they can evaluate it and perform a biopsy, if necessary.