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Skin Cancer

Symptoms, risk factors and treatment for skin cancer

Skin cancer isn't just one disease -- there are actually three distinct types of skin cancer that can occur. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common and also the least serious of the three because it doesn't typically spread. Squamous cell is more severe because it can spread to vital organs, though typically it spreads slowly when it does. The final type, malignant melanoma, is the most serious because it can spread very quickly to the lymph nodes or the blood and then into vital organs.

Skin Cancer Symptoms

The signs of skin cancer are all physical, but can be easily overlooked as just passing skin abnormalities. Things to watch out for include red lumps or moles that are very firm, sore spots on the skin that bleed or crust, sores that don't heal, scaly areas on the skin, red or brown scaly areas, suspicious new growths and lumps or moles that are shiny, waxy, pale and smooth.

Skin Cancer Risk Factors

Risk factors for skin cancer have less to do with factors like genetics and traits, and more to do with exposure to UV rays. Though most cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in people over 50 with light skin, young people and those with dark skin are just as susceptible, depending on their exposure to UV light during their lifetime.

  • Risk factors that have been associated with skin cancer include:
  • Pale skin that freckles or burns easily
  • Living closer to the equator where sunlight is strongest
  • Working or spending lots of time outdoors

Different types of skin cancer are also associated with different light conditions. Basal and squamous cell carcinoma generally occur in those who spend lots of time outside over many years, while malignant melanoma is associated with shorter periods of high intensity sunlight, such as sunbathing or tanning.

Skin Cancer Treatment

Skin cancer treatment will depend on the type of skin cancer. A biopsy is usually the starting point to determine which type of cancer is present. If possible, and if the cancer is not at risk of spreading, removing the affected area may be the only necessary treatment.

For more severe forms of skin cancer, surgery is necessary to remove the tumor. From there, chemotherapy or radiation therapy may be necessary to ensure all cancerous cells are destroyed.

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