What Is Skin Cancer? Risk Factors and Detection
Our bodies are made up of individual cells which are designed to reproduce, allowing for growth and an extended, healthy life. By serving their purpose, reproducing, and dying, they leave new, fresh, and fully functional cells to continue to perform bodily functions. After many cycles of reproduction, due to natural cellular degeneration over time or outside influences causing mutations, some cells fail to reproduce and die at the normal rate, and can start reproducing too much and form growths. These growths may be benign, or they may be malignant, in which case they are referred to as cancerous tumors. Ultraviolet radiation can cause skin cells to mutate and create growths, some benign and some malignant. What is a benign growth and what is skin cancer is a question you should ask your doctor.
If you have a rash, lump, or wound that doesn’t seem to heal, this could be a cancerous tumor. Rather than ignoring these symptoms, you should see a doctor and find out what they are, although something like this should be an obvious reason to talk to a doctor regardless of the cancer risk.
The symptoms mentioned above may indicate squamous or basal cell carcinoma, which are the two most common nonmelanoma skin cancers. Squamous cells are the top layer of the skin. They are round and flat and protect against the environment. Beneath this layer of cells are the basal cells, which can also form tumors.
Most people have an average of 10 to 40 moles or nevi, which are benign, noncancerous growths. They often appear in the face, back, and arms, places which are frequently exposed to sunlight. Nevi are growths formed from mutated melanocytes, the cells which pigment the skin. These are located between the dermis, where sweat glands and hair follicles are located, and the epidermis, made up of basal and squamous cells. Melanocyte growths which turn cancerous are called melanoma.
Check your skin regularly for any abnormalities, especially if you have dysplastic nevi, which are irregularly shaped moles. If these nevi change in any way, including in size, shape, color or texture, or if the surrounding tissue becomes irritated, you should consult a doctor. If a new dysplastic nevi forms on your body, a doctor may want to do a biopsy to see if it is cancerous. This is generally done by removing the entire mole, and this may be all the treatment you need to get rid of the cancer. If the cancer is allowed to metastasize, additional tumors may form in other parts of the body by wandering cancerous cells which reproduce elsewhere, so early detection is extremely important.
You should not expose yourself to UV radiation if you can avoid it. When you go out in the sun, you should use sunscreen or protective clothing. Do not tan yourself too much and avoid sunburns, and do not use tanning beds. New research shows that tanning beds are an important risk factor for melanoma, which is the most serious form of skin cancer.
Ask a doctor if you have any suspicious irregularities in your skin, and familiarize yourself with your skin and moles so you can do self-examinations. Any irregularity should be examined by a doctor, who can tell you what is skin cancer and what may be a normal growth or another condition.