Skin Cancer Treatment (Patient)
General Information About Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the skin.
The skin is the body's largest organ. It protects against heat, sunlight, injury, and infection. Skin also helps control body temperature and stores water, fat, and vitamin D. The skin has several layers, but the two main layers are the epidermis (upper or outer layer) and the dermis (lower or inner layer). Skin cancer begins in the epidermis, which is made up of three kinds of cells:
Skin cancer can occur anywhere on the body, but it is most common in skin that is often exposed to sunlight, such as the face, neck, hands, and arms.
There are different types of cancer that start in the skin.
The most common types are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, which are nonmelanoma skin cancers. Nonmelanoma skin cancers rarely spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma is the rarest form of skin cancer. It is more likely to invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. Actinic keratosis is a skin condition that sometimes becomes squamous cell carcinoma.
This summary is about nonmelanoma skin cancer and actinic keratosis. See the following PDQ summaries for information on melanoma and other kinds of cancer that affect the skin:
Skin color and being exposed to sunlight can increase the risk of nonmelanoma skin cancer and actinic keratosis.
Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk. Risk factors for basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma include the following:
Risk factors for actinic keratosis include the following:
Nonmelanoma skin cancer and actinic keratosis often appear as a change in the skin.
Not all changes in the skin are a sign of nonmelanoma skin cancer or actinic keratosis. Check with your doctor if you notice any changes in your skin.
Possible signs of nonmelanoma skin cancer include the following:
Possible signs of actinic keratosis include the following:
Tests or procedures that examine the skin are used to detect (find) and diagnose nonmelanoma skin cancer and actinic keratosis.
The following procedures may be used:
Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.
The prognosis (chance of recovery) depends mostly on the stage of the cancer and the type of treatment used to remove the cancer.
Treatment options depend on the following:
eMedicineHealth Public Information from the National Cancer Institute
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