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The skin is the largest organ of the body. It covers the internal organs and protects them from injury; serves as a barrier between germs, such as bacteria, and internal organs; and prevents the loss of too much fluid. The skin helps control body temperature and get rid of some wastes. Certain cells in the skin communicate with the brain and allow temperature, touch, and pain sensations.
Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers. It accounts for nearly half of all cancers in the United States. More than 2 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancer are found in this country each year. Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, will account for more than 75,000 cases of skin cancer in 2012.
These types of skin cancer are classified as non-melanomas. They usually start in the basal cells or squamous cells, which is how they get their names. These cells are found at the base of the outer layer of the skin.
Most non-melanoma skin cancers develop on sun-exposed areas of the body, like the face, ear, neck, lips, and the backs of the hands. Depending on the type, they can be fast or slow growing, but they rarely spread to other parts of the body.
Basal cell or squamous cell cancers are highly likely to be cured if found and treated early.
Melanoma is a cancer that begins in the melanocytes – the cells that produce the skin coloring or pigment known asmelanin. Melanin helps protect the deeper layers of the skin from the harmful effects of the sun.
Melanoma is almost always curable when it is found in its very early stages. Although melanoma accounts for only a small percentage of skin cancer, it is far more dangerous than other skin cancers and causes most skin cancer deaths.
Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, will account for more than 75,000 cases of skin cancer in 2012. It accounts for almost 9,000 of the nearly 12,000 skin cancer deaths each year.
The overall 5-year survival rate for melanoma is 91%. For localized melanoma, the 5-year survival rate is 98%; survival rates for regional and distant stage diseases are 62% and 16%, respectively. About 84% of melanomas are diagnosed at a localized stage. You can read more in our document Melanoma Skin Cancer online at or call us for a free copy.
There are a few rare types of skin cancer such as keratoacanthomas, Merkel cell carcinoma, skin lymphoma, Kaposi sarcoma, skin adnexal tumors, and sarcomas. These are all non-melanoma types. You can find out more about these and other non-melanoma cancers in our document Skin Cancer at , or call us for details.
Risk factors for non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancers include:
Skin cancer can be found early, and both doctors and patients play important roles in finding skin cancer. If you have any of the following symptoms, tell your doctor.
The best ways to lower the risk of non-melanoma skin cancer are to avoid long exposure to intense sunlight and practice sun safety. You can still exercise and enjoy the outdoors while using sun safety at the same time. Here are some ways to be sun safe:
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