Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S. It occurs in more than a million people each year. There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Of the three, melanoma is the most serious.
The body’s largest organ
The skin is the body’s largest organ. It has two main layers: the inner layer, called the dermis, and the outer layer, called the epidermis. The dermis contains sweat glands, nerves, hair follicles, and blood vessels.
The epidermis forms the protective, waterproof layer of the skin.
The epidermis, or outer layer, is made up of three types of living cells:
• Squamous cells are flat and form the top layer of living cells.
• Basal cells are round and lie directly under squamous cells.
• Melanocytes are specialized skin cells that produce pigment called melanin.
The melanin pigment produced by melanocytes gives skin its color. It also protects the skin from ultraviolet (UV) ray damage from the sun by absorbing and scattering the energy. People with more melanin have darker skin and better protection from UV light. People with lighter skin (less melanin) are more vulnerable to damage from UV light.
How tumors form
Normally, cells in the body grow, divide and produce more cells as needed. But sometimes the process goes wrong — cells become abnormal and multiply in an uncontrolled way. These extra cells form a mass of tissue, called a growth or tumor. Tumors can be relatively harmless (benign) or cancerous (malignant). A malignant tumor can spread, damage healthy tissue, and make a person ill.
Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas (tumors) are very common in both older and younger people and are rarely life-threatening. Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are often called non-melanoma skin cancers or keratinocyte cancers.
Melanoma results from the uncontrolled growth of melanocytes and can occur anywhere on the body where melanocytes are located, including the skin, eyes, mouth and gastrointestinal tract. Men tend to develop melanoma more often on the trunk (the area from the shoulders to the hips) or the head and neck. Women more often develop melanoma on the extremities (arms and legs). Melanoma is the most serious and most aggressive (fastest growing) form of skin cancer.
Can skin cancer be treated?
Most basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers can be cured if found and treated early. Melanoma can often be treated effectively if caught in time.
July is National UV awareness month and this information is provided by the National Institute of Health. We strongly recommend you use UV protection and, if you are concerned about your skin, make an appointment to see one of our providers at the Madison County Health Trust Physician Clinic (515-462-2950), or the Earlham Medical Clinic (515-758-2907).
Information from The National Stroke Association, provided by Chris Nolte, director, Public Relations and Development, Madison County Health Care Systems, 300 West Hutchings, Winterset, 515-462-9749.