Skin cancer develops when the body’s DNA becomes damaged. The cells begin to grow and divide uncontrollably. The multiplying cells in skin cancer are more visible than in other cancers since it typically begins in the outer layer of the skin. The tumor that is formed can be seen when it is very small making most skin cancers detectable even in the early stages. So briefly, where does skin cancer occur? The answer is in the outer layers of the skin, anywhere on your body.
As your body’s largest organ, the skin protects and helps control body temperature. It stores water, fat and vitamin D. There are several layers in skin. The two main layers include the epidermis, which is the outer layer, and the dermis, which is the inner layer. Skin cancer begins in the epidermis in one of three kinds of cells.
- Squamous cells: Flat cells that are on the uppermost layer of the epidermis.
- Basal cells: Round cells in the middle of the squamous and melanocyte cells.
- Melanocytes: Laying beneath those two this type of cell makes melanin which gives skin it’s natural color. Exposure to sun will cause the melanocytes to make more pigment.
Where Skin Cancer Can Be Found
Skin exposed to sunlight is most commonly affected by skin cancer such as; the face, neck, hands, back and arms. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are both common types of skin cancer found in these areas. Both are non-melanoma forms of skin cancer. While melanoma can spread to nearby tissues and other parts of the body, these two will most likely not. Skin cancer can also be found in areas of the body that do not see the sunlight, including the genitals. Because of this and the fact that skin cancer can be treated especially when caught early, it is important to know what you are looking for and get a full body screening regularly.
Risk Factors for Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is by far the most common of all types of cancers. Nearly half of the cancer diagnoses given in the United States are for skin cancer. The obvious risk factor includes being exposed to sunlight over long periods of time. Artificial sunlight, from tanning beds is also a culprit. Other risk factors include:
- Fair complexion
- Blue or green eyes
- Red or blond hair
- Weakened immune system
- Family history
- Multiple moles
- Severe sunburns as a child
- Radiation treatment
What Skin Cancer Can Look Like
Treatment is most effective when skin cancer is detected early. Not only should you know where does skin cancer occur, you should know what it looks like. Patients and doctors need to look for the following symptoms and report any changes they see. The signs of possible skin cancer include the following changes in the skin’s appearance:
- Sore that does not heal
- Raised, smooth, shiny, or waxy areas of the skin
- Raised red or reddish-brown spots on the skin
- Scaly bleeding, oozing or crusty parts of the skin
- Firm scar
- Cracking or peeling of the lower lip that does not go away
- Change in sensation
- Pigmentation that extends the borders of a mole
What Different Types of Skin Cancer Looks Like
Specifically, the three different kinds of skin cancer have certain characteristics.
Basal cell cancer is most often found on the skin that has had years of sun exposure, but can be found in other areas of the body. It looks like a hard, raised pearly wound. Basal cell cancer does not usually spread and it can be treated.
Squamous cell cancer tends to develop where maximum exposure to radiation has occurred and damage has been done. Sun-damaged skin will develop into rough patches, often scaly with open wounds that do not heal.
Malignant melanoma is the most serious of skin cancers. People who have had intense, although brief exposure to strong sunlight, especially if they are not used to it, carry a stronger risk factor. Malignant melanoma usually shows up in a mole that starts to change. Moles, or pigmentation that grows, that change texture or color or begin to bleed are a common early sign.
National Cancer Research - https://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/skin/Patient
American Cancer Society - https://www.cancer.org/Cancer/CancerCauses/SunandUVExposure/skin-cancer-facts