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Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

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Topic Overview

This topic is about nonmelanoma skin cancer, including basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer. For information about melanoma skin cancer, see the topic Skin Cancer, Melanoma.

Skin cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in the skin. It is the most common type of cancer. It is almost always cured when it is found early and treated. So it is important to see your doctor if you have changes in your skin.

Most skin cancers are the nonmelanoma type. There are two main types of nonmelanoma skin cancer:

  • Basal cell carcinomacamera.gif. Most nonmelanoma cancers are this type. It can damage deeper tissues, such as muscles and bones. It almost never spreads to other parts of the body.
  • Squamous cell carcinomacamera.gif. This type is less common. It often develops from a small rough spot that grows in sun-damaged skin. It sometimes spreads to other parts of the body.

There are other types of skin cancer that are not melanoma. But these are much less common. They include Merkel cell carcinoma and several kinds of sarcomas.

Nonmelanoma skin cancer is usually caused by too much sun. Using tanning beds or sunlamps too much can also cause it.

Skin cancer usually appears as a growth that changes in color, shape, or size. This can be a sore that does not heal or a change in a mole or skin growth. These changes usually happen in areas that get the most sun—your head, neck, back, chest, or shoulders. The most common place for skin cancer is your nose.

Your doctor will use a biopsy to find out if you have skin cancer. This means taking a sample of the growth and sending it to a lab to see if it contains cancer cells.

The single greatest risk is from ultraviolet (UV) radiation. This comes from exposure to the sun, especially during the middle of the day. It also comes from exposure to artificial sources of UV, such as indoor tanning.

If you have light skin that sunburns easily, you are more likely to get skin cancer.

Your risk is higher if you are male or if you are over 40. Your risk is higher if others in your family have had it or if you have had it before.

You may also be more likely to get it if you have been exposed often to strong X-rays, to certain chemicals (such as arsenic, coal tar, and creosote), or to radioactive substances (such as radium).

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 02, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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