Skin cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer in the United States. The skin is
composed of the epidermis and the dermis. Skin cancers begin in the outer layer or epidermis. Cancer is a disease
of cells. Normal cells reproduce and repair themselves by dividing in an orderly manner but cancer cells are
abnormal and proliferate in a disorderly manner producing a malignant tumor.
The most common skin cancer is a basal cell carcinoma, which rarely spreads but if
left untreated will erode into the underlying tissues. There is a rare familial form of this disease called the
nevoid basal cell syndrome or the Gorlin-Goltz syndrome, in which patients incur multiple skin cancers throughout
The second most common skin cancer is a squamous cell carcinoma and if untreated
can spread or metastasize to distant tissues. Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas make up over ninety per cent
of skin cancers. Ninety-five percent of patients treated are free of disease.
A melanoma is a rare form of skin cancer. If left untreated, a melanoma can be life
Sun exposure is a predisposing factor for all skin cancers. Protective clothing,
sunscreens and limited exposure are important preventive measures.
It is important to have skin cancers removed for diagnosis and treatment. A basal
cell or squamous cell carcinoma may present as a pearly nodule, an ulcer or a scaly, red patch. A melanoma is
usually a highly pigmented (brown or black) lesion with asymmetry, border irregularity, diverse pigmentation and a
diameter of greater than six millimeters. The following links provide further information about the diagnosis and
treatment for skin cancers.
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