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Skin Cancer

If an adult in your life has skin cancer, you may want to learn more about it. This page has information about skin cancer, its types and what to expect. 

First, you should understand what cancer is. Cancer is a disease caused by abnormal cells that grow too rapidly. Our bodies are made of cells so tiny you need a microscope to see them. Cancer cells don’t look or act like normal cells, and they don’t allow our normal cells to work properly. There are many different types of cancer that can grow anywhere in the body.1 Miller DL, Weinstock MA. Nonmelanoma skin cancer in the United States: Incidence. J Am Academy of Dermatology. 1994;30:774. 

There are several types of skin cancers, but basically, skin cancers can be classified as either malignant melanoma or non-melanoma skin cancers (NMSC). 

  • Non-melanoma skin cancers (NMSC): This group of skin cancers includes mainly basal cell carcinoma, which is the most common, and squamous cell carcinoma.Together, these two types of cancer account for about 95 percent of NMSC.2 American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2012. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2012. Not all squamous cell cancers and basal cell cancers of the skin are reported to national cancer registries, so it can be difficult to know the exact number of new cases every year. However, according to the American Cancer Society, NMSC were diagnosed in 3.5 million people in the U.S., and 2.2 million people were treated for the disease in 2006, with some patients having multiple diagnoses.2 American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2012. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2012. Most, but not all, of these forms of skin cancer have a high cure rate because they are often very small when found. Actually, despite millions of new cases of NMSC diagnoses each year, there are fewer than 1,000 deaths related to NMSC.3 Albores-Saavedra J, Batich K, Chable-Montero F, Sagy N, Schwartz AM, Henson DE. Merkel cell carcinoma demographics, morphology, and survival based on 3870 cases: a population based study. J Cutan Pathol. 2010:37:20-27. 
  • Malignant melanoma of the skin: This is becoming more common in the U.S. Interestingly, about 25 percent of all melanomas are found on the head and neck. Usually, melanoma is much more serious than NMSC because there is a higher risk of spread to other parts of the body. According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma cases have been increasing for at least 30 years. In fact, since 2004, melanoma has been increasing by almost 3 percent a year in both men and women.2 American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2012. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2012. 

Your loved one may have noticed an oddly shaped mole, lump or swelling on his or her skin and brought it to the attention of a doctor. Not every mole, lump or bump is cancer, but it is a good idea to ask a doctor when you are not sure. The earlier the cancer is found, the better the outcome. 


References

1 Miller DL, Weinstock MA. Nonmelanoma skin cancer in the United States: Incidence. J Am Academy of Dermatology. 1994;30:774.

2 American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2012. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2012.

3 Albores-Saavedra J, Batich K, Chable-Montero F, Sagy N, Schwartz AM, Henson DE. Merkel cell carcinoma demographics, morphology, and survival based on 3870 cases: a population based study. J Cutan Pathol. 2010:37:20-27.

4 LeBoit PE, Burg G, Weedon D, Sarasain A. (Eds.): World Health Organization. Classification of Tumours. Pathology and Genetics of Skin Tumours. IARC Press: Lyon 2006.

5 Walling HW, Fosko SW, Geraminejad PA, Whitaker DC, Arpey CJ. Aggressive basal cell carcinoma: Presentation, pathogenesis, and management. Cancer and Metastasis Reviews. 2004;23(3-4):389-402.

6 Cockburn M, Peng D, Key C. Chapter 12: Melanoma. Ries LAG, Young JL, Keel GE, Eisner MP, Lin YD, Horner M-J (editors). SEER Survival Monograph: Cancer Survival Among Adults: U.S. SEER Program, 1988-2001, Patient and Tumor Characteristics. National Cancer Institute, SEER Program, NIH Pub. No. 07-6215, Bethesda, MD, 2007.

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