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FAQs About Skin Cancer
In oncology, skin cancer is known as one of the most common types of cancer in the U.S. This article provides answers to common questions that people often have about the disease.
What causes skin cancer?
Like many cancers, skin cancer develops due to irrepressible multiplication of damaged cells. Skin cell damage is often caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or tanning beds. Inherited DNA mutations and cell replication disorders can also cause cell damages. The condition can occur in patients with a suppressed immune system, such as patients who undergo organ transplants or get infected with HIV.
What are the common types of skin cancers?
There are three common types of skin cancers: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. The first two are often categorized as nonmelanoma skin cancers. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form and is usually found on parts of the body exposed to the sun, such as the scalp, arms, face ears and torso. It hardly spreads to other parts of the body but is locally destructive.
Squamous cell carcinoma starts at the first layer of the skin and is usually caused by lifelong sun exposure. Melanoma is common among adults between 25 to 29 years old. It forms in the cells responsible for skin pigments and is considered the most serious form of skin cancer.
What are the warning signs of skin cancer?
Since skin cancers are the result of sporadic growth of skin cells, the first sign is usually a noticeable change in the person’s skin. Other signs of skin cancer include shiny nodules or pimples, non-healing sores, red patches, crusted red nodules, growing moles, bleeding or painful moles or black discoloration of the fingernails.
What treatments are available?
Nonmelanoma skin cancers are treatable. If melanoma is diagnosed and treated early (before it gets to the lymph nodes), it is curable. Skin cancer treatment aims to eliminate or excise all the cancer cells. Generally, the first treatment approach is surgical, and the type of treatment depends on the type, depth, size and location of the tumor.
Cancer treatment in oncology is mostly handled on an outpatient basis. Examples include Mohs micrographic surgery, standard excision and curettage and electrodesiccation. Non-surgical treatments, such as radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy, may be considered in advanced cases or when the patient cannot undergo surgery.
What are the risk factors for skin cancer?
Cases of skin cancer have increased over the last few years. Stats show that one in two men and one in three women will develop nonmelanoma skin cancer in their lifetime. If someone develops a nonmelanoma skin cancer, they are at a higher risk of developing other skin cancers. The risk factors of nonmelanoma skin cancer include a history of radiation therapy, exposure to arsenic, heavy UV exposure and blistering sunburns. Risk factors of melanoma include many atypical moles, an immediate relative with a history of melanoma or a previous diagnosis of other types of skin cancer.
You can protect yourself from skin damage caused by the sun by using sunscreen, reducing sun exposure, wearing sun-shielding clothing, using sunglasses, avoiding tanning beds and visiting the oncologist for a yearly skin exam. If any sign of skin cancer is detected, the medical professional will recommend appropriate oncology treatment.
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