It is common knowledge that the skin is the body’s largest organ. But do you know everything the skin does for the body? It protects internal organs from injury, acts as a barrier to germs, helps to retain fluids and control body temperature, and assists with making vitamin D. It also protects the rest of the body from ultraviolet (UV) rays.
Since the skin constantly comes into contact with UV rays, it can become damaged and skin cancer can potentially form. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer and there are several forms: basal and squamous cell skin cancers and melanoma.
Basal and squamous cell skin cancers begin in the outer layer of your skin and develop on sun-exposed areas like the face, ears, neck, lips and backs of the hands. Basal cell cancers grow slowly and rarely spread to other parts of the body while squamous cell cancers are more likely to grow into deeper layers of the skin and spread, although the spreading of this type of skin cancer is not common. Some people develop more than one of these skin cancers, which are easily treatable if they are found early, when they are small and have not spread.
Melanoma accounts for only a small percentage of skin cancers. It starts in the melanocytes, or the cells that make the brown pigment known as melanin, which gives the skin its color. Melanoma can start on almost any part of the skin, even in places that aren’t usually exposed to the sun. It is almost always curable when it is found early, but it is more likely to grow and spread into other parts of the body where it can be much harder to treat. Because of this, melanoma causes most skin cancer deaths.
There are many risk factors for developing skin cancer including having too much exposure to UV rays from the sun or tanning beds, having pale skin that easily burns and having severe sunburns in the past. You could also be at risk if you have multiple or unusual moles, a weakened immune system or are older in age.
Protection from the Sun
It is crucial to protect your skin when you’re in the sun. Seek shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is strongest, and keep the shadow rule in mind: if your shadow is shorter than you then the sun’s rays are at their strongest. Use protective clothing in the sun as well as broad-spectrum sunscreen and lip balm with an SPF 30 or higher. Wear a wide-brimmed hat to shade your face, neck and ears and wear wrap-around sunglasses with 100 percent UVA and UVB absorption.
See a trusted health care provider if you notice any changes in your skin including changes in a mole or a new growth, scaliness or roughness, a sore that doesn’t heal, the spread of pigment beyond its border or a change in the sensation of your skin.
Source: American Cancer Society