skin cancer

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skin cancer,

malignant tumor of the skinskin,
the flexible tissue (integument) enclosing the body of vertebrate animals. In humans and other mammals, the skin operates a complex organ of numerous structures (sometimes called the integumentary system) serving vital protective and metabolic functions.
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. The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Rarer forms include mycosis fungoides (a type of lymphoma) and Kaposi's sarcomaKaposi's sarcoma
, a usually fatal cancer that was considered rare until its appearance in AIDS patients. First described by an Austro-Hungarian physician, Moritz Kaposi, in 1872, it appears in three forms and is characterized by vascular skin tumors.
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. Overexposure to the sun is the primary cause of the common skin cancers, and the popularity of tanning since the 1930s lies behind the rise in skin cancer rates. The depletion of the earth's protective ozone layerozone layer
or ozonosphere,
region of the stratosphere containing relatively high concentrations of ozone, located at altitudes of 12–30 mi (19–48 km) above the earth's surface.
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 also plays a role. The most effective way of preventing skin cancer is to avoid exposure to the sun's ultraviolet raysultraviolet radiation,
invisible electromagnetic radiation between visible violet light and X rays; it ranges in wavelength from about 400 to 4 nanometers and in frequency from about 1015 to 1017 hertz.
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 by consistently applying effective sunscreens (see sunburnsunburn,
inflammation of the skin caused by actinic rays from the sun or artificial sources. Moderate exposure to ultraviolet radiation is followed by a red blush, but severe exposure may result in blisters, pain, and constitutional symptoms.
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) and wearing protective clothing.

Basal and Squamous Cell Carcinomas

Basal and squamous cell carcinomas are the most common types of cancer. Both arise from epithelial tissue (see epitheliumepithelium
, sheet of tissue that covers or lines the external and internal body surfaces. The epithelium is closely packed, has little intercellular material, and is lacking in blood vessels.
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). They are rare in dark-skinned people; light-skinned, blue-eyed people who do not tan well but who have had significant exposure to the rays of the sun are at highest risk. Both types usually occur on the face or other exposed areas.

Basal cell carcinoma typically is seen as a raised, sometimes ulcerous nodule. The nodule may have a pearly appearance. It grows slowly and rarely metastasizes (spreads), but it can be locally destructive and disfiguring. Squamous cell carcinoma typically is seen as a painless lump that grows into a wartlike lesion, or it may arise in patches of red, scaly sun-damaged skin called actinic keratoses. It can metastasize and can lead to death.

Basal and squamous cell carcinomas are easily cured with appropriate treatment. The lesion is usually removed by scalpal excision, curettage, cryosurgery (freezing), or micrographic surgery in which successive thin slices are removed and examined for cancerous cells under a microscope until the samples are clear. If the cancer arises in an area where surgery would be difficult or disfiguring, radiation therapy may be employed. Genetic scientists have discovered a gene that, when mutated, causes basal cell carcinoma.

Melanoma

Melanoma is the most virulent type of skin cancer and the type most likely to be fatal. As with the other common skin cancers, melanoma can be caused by exposure to the sun, and its incidence is increasing around the world. There also appears to be a hereditary factor in some cases. Although light-skinned people are the most susceptible, melanomas are also seen in dark-skinned people. Melanomas arise in melanocytes, the melaninmelanin
, water-insoluble polymer of various compounds derived from the amino acid tyrosine. It is one of two pigments found in human skin and hair and adds brown to skin color; the other pigment is carotene, which contributes yellow coloring.
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-containing cells of the epidermal layer of the skin. Melanin is the pigment that gives skin color and that helps to protect the skin from sun damage. In light-skinned people, melanomas appear most frequently on the trunk in men and on the arms or legs in women. In blacks melanomas appear most frequently on the hands and feet. It is unknown whether melanoma in blacks is related to sun exposure. It is recommended that people examine themselves regularly for any evidence of the characteristic changes in a mole that could raise a suspicion of melanoma. These include asymmetry of the mole, a mottled appearance (variations in color from shades of brown to a bluish tint), irregular or notched borders, and oozing or bleeding or a change in texture. Surgery performed before the melanoma has spread is the only effective treatment for melanoma.

Bibliography

See publications of the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society.

References in periodicals archive ?
A higher incidence of infection and skin malignancy adverse events were observed in briakinumab versus placebo-treated patients
Previous studies have been too small to show a definitive link between biologic therapy for RA and skin malignancy, although RA previously has been well established as a risk factor for skin cancer, Dr.
The use of sunscreen creams may, therefore, be indirectly increasing the risk of developing the skin malignancy melanoma.