Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United
States. According to current estimates, 40 to 50 percent of
Americans who live to age 65 will have skin cancer at least
once. Although anyone can get skin cancer, the risk is greatest
for people who have fair skin that freckles easily.
UV radiation from the sun is the main cause of skin cancer.
In addition, artificial sources of UV radiation ó such as
sunlamps and tanning booths ó can cause skin cancer. People
who live in areas of the U.S. that get high levels of UV
radiation from the sun are more likely to get skin cancer. For
example, skin cancer is more common in Texas and Florida than in
Minnesota, where the sun is not as strong.
There are three common types of skin cancers. Basal cell
carcinomas are the most common, accounting for more than 90
percent of all skin cancers in the United States. They are
slow-growing cancers that seldom spread to other parts of the
body. Squamous cell carcinomas also rarely spread, but
they do so more often than basal cell carcinomas. The most
dangerous of all cancers that occur in the skin is melanoma.
Melanoma can spread to other organs, and when it does, it often
Both basal and squamous cell cancers are found mainly on
areas of the skin exposed to the sun ó the head, face, neck,
hands, and arms. However, skin cancer can occur anywhere.
Changes in the skin are not sure signs of cancer; however,
itís important to see a doctor if any symptom lasts longer
than 2 weeks. Donít wait for the area to hurt ó skin cancers
seldom cause pain.
All skin cancers could be cured if they were discovered and
brought to a doctorís attention before they had a chance to
spread. Therefore, you should check your skin regularly. The
most common warning sign of skin cancer is a change on the skin,
especially a new growth or a sore that doesnít heal. Skin
cancers donít all look the same. For example, skin cancer can
start as a small, smooth, shiny, pale, or waxy lump. Or it can
appear as a firm red lump. Sometimes, the lump bleeds or
develops a crust. Skin cancer also can start as a flat, red spot
that is rough, dry, or scaly.
In treating skin cancer, the doctorís main goal is to
remove or destroy cancer completely, leaving as small scar as
possible. To plan the best treatment for each person, the doctor
considers the type of skin cancer, its location and size, and
the personís general health and medical history. Treatment for
skin cancer usually involves some type of surgery. In some
cases, radiation therapy or chemotherapy (anticancer drugs) or a
combination of these treatments may be necessary.
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