Skin cancer begins in cells, the building blocks that make up the skin. Normally, skin cells grow and divide to form new cells. Every day skin cells grow old and die, and new cells take their place.
Sometimes, this orderly process goes wrong. New cells form when the skin does not need them, and old or damaged cells do not die when they should. These extra cells can form a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor.
Growths or tumors can be benign or malignant:
Benign growths are not cancer
Malignant growths are cancer:
- Malignant growths are generally more serious than benign growths. They may be life-threatening. However, the two most common types of skin cancer cause only about one out of every thousand deaths from cancer.
- Malignant growths often can be removed. But sometimes they grow back.
- Cells from malignant growths can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs.
- Cells from some malignant growths can spread to other parts of the body. The spread of cancer is called metastasis
The best way to prevent skin cancer is to protect yourself from the sun. Also, protect children from an early age. Doctors suggest that people of all ages limit their time in the sun and avoid other sources of UV radiation:
- It is best to stay out of the midday sun (from mid-morning to late afternoon) whenever you can. You also should protect yourself from UV radiation reflected by sand, water, snow, and ice. UV radiation can go through light clothing, windshields, windows, and clouds
- Use sunscreen lotions. Sunscreen may help prevent skin cancer,
- Wear long sleeves and long pants of tightly woven fabrics, a hat with a wide brim, and sunglasses that absorb UV
- But you still need to avoid the sun and wear clothing to protect your skin.
- Stay away from sunlamps and tanning booths
Surgery is the usual treatment for people with skin cancer. In some cases, the doctor may suggest topical chemotherapy, photodynamic therapy, or radiation therapy.
Because skin cancer treatment may damage healthy cells and tissues, unwanted side effects sometimes occur. Side effects depend mainly on the type and extent of the treatment. Side effects may not be the same for each person
types of surgery
Excisional skin surgery is a common treatment to remove skin cancer. After numbing the area, the surgeon removes the growth with a scalpel. The surgeon also removes a border of skin around the growth. This skin is the margin. The margin is examined under a microscope to be certain that all the cancer cells have been removed. The size of the margin depends on the size of the growth
Laser surgery uses a narrow beam of light to remove or destroy cancer cells. It is most often used for growths that are on the outer layer of skin only.
Mohs surgery (also called Mohs micrographic surgery) is often used for skin cancer. The area of the growth is numbed. A specially trained surgeon shaves away thin layers of the growth. Each layer is immediately examined under a microscope. The surgeon continues to shave away tissue until no cancer cells can be seen under the microscope. In this way, the surgeon can remove all the cancer and only a small bit of healthy tissue.
Radiation TherapyRadiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. The rays come from a large machine outside the body. They affect cells only in the treated area. This treatment is given at a hospital or clinic in one dose or many doses over several weeks.
Radiation is not a common treatment for skin cancer. But it may be used for skin cancer in areas where surgery could be difficult or leave a bad scar. You may have this treatment if you have a growth on your eyelid, ear, or nose. It also may be used if the cancer comes back after surgery to remove it.
Side effects depend mainly on the dose of radiation and the part of your body that is treated. During treatment your skin in the treated area may become red, dry, and tender. Your doctor can suggest ways to relieve the side effects of radiation therapy.
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) uses a chemical along with a special light source, such as a laser light, to kill cancer cells. The chemical is a photosensitizing agent. A cream is applied to the skin or the chemical is injected. It stays in cancer cells longer than in normal cells. Several hours or days later, the special light is focused on the growth. The chemical becomes active and destroys nearby cancer cells.