Our bodies are made up of hundreds of millions of living cells. Normal cells grow, divide and die in a very orderly fashion. During the early years of life, normal cells divide faster and allow the person to grow. After the person becomes an adult, most cells divide only to replace worn out, damaged, dying or dead cells.
That’s why, on the top of your head or on the bottom of your feet – anyplace there are living cells – there is a potential for skin cancer.
There are many kinds of cancer, but they all begin the same way – with out-of-control growth of abnormal cells.
Cancer cell growth is different from normal cell growth. Instead of dying, cancer cells keep on growing and form new cancer cells. They grow into and invade other tissues, which is something that normal, healthy cells can’t do.
Skin cancer types
According to radiation oncologist Dr. Tushar Kumar, MD, who is part of the team at Southcoast Centers for Cancer Care located in Fall River and Fairhaven, skin cancers are generally broken down into three categories: basal cells, squamous cells and the most dangerous, melanoma.
Basal cell cancer
About 8 out of 10 skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas, which begin in the lowest layer of the epidermis, the basal cell layer. They usually begin on skin exposed to the sun, such as the head and neck. Once found mostly in middle-aged or older people, it is also being seen in younger people, perhaps because people are spending more time in the sun without protecting their skin.
Squamous cell cancer
Squamous cell cancer accounts for about 2 out of 10 skin cancers; it starts in the upper part of the epidermis, most often on skin that has been exposed to the sun, like the face, ears, neck, lips, and backs of the hands. It can also start within scars or skin ulcers elsewhere.
While skin cancer is the most common of all cancers, melanoma accounts for less than 5% of skin cancer cases. So it is much less common than basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers, but it is far more dangerous, and causes most of the deaths from skin cancer.
Melanoma begins in the melanocytes, starting most often on the chest or back in men and on the legs of women, but it can start in other places, too. Melanoma can almost always be cured in its early stages. But it is likely to spread to other parts of the body if it is not caught early.
Recommended: a skin exam
"Skin cancer is directly related to UV exposure," Dr. Kumar said. "And it's not just the summer sun that is dangerous — it is important to protect yourself from the sun's harmful rays no matter the season and to have your skin checked during your regular health checkups."
While avoiding sun exposure entirely is impossible, he advises using a product daily that contains a SPF of 30, wearing protective clothing including a hat and sunshades for your eyes, and staying out of direct sunlight midday.
get all the details in the new South Coast Prime Times