Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells in the skin. Left untreated, these cells can spread to other organs and tissues, such as lymph nodes and bone. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, affecting one in five Americans during their lifetimes, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
How Your Skin Works
Your skin works as a barrier to protect your body against things like water loss, bacteria, and other harmful contaminants. The outermost layer, theepidermis, is the layer in constant contact with the environment. While it sheds skin cells regularly, it can sustain damage from the sun, infection, or cuts and scrapes. The epidermis is made up of several different types of cells.
Less common than other types,melanoma is by far the most dangerous, causing about 75 percent of all skin cancer-related deaths (American Melanoma Foundation, 2009). It occurs in the skin cells that create pigment, and it creates moles or lesions that follow an ABCDE pattern in their irregularities:
- asymmetrical shape
- border irregularities
- evolution of the lesion
While not typically considered a skin cancer, Kaposi’s sarcoma is another type of cancer that involves skin lesions that are brownish-red to blue in color and usually found on the legs and feet. It affects the cells that line blood vessels close to the skin. This cancer is caused by a type of herpes virus and is typically associated with patients with AIDS.
Who is at Risk?
While there are several different types of skin cancers, most share the same risk factors, including:
- prolonged exposure to UV rays found in sunlight
- being over the age of 40
- family history of skin cancers
- fair complexion
- organ transplant
However, young people or those with dark complexion can still develop skin cancer.