An in-depth report on the causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers.
Skin cancer; Squamous cell cancer; Basal cell cancer; Actinic keratosis; Nonmelanoma skin cancer
- The skin is the largest organ in the body and is composed of several cell types. Skin cancer is the most common cancer. Different skin cancers start in different cells of the skin.
- Skin cancers are divided into two major groups: Nonmelanoma includes basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer, and melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer.
- Over 2 million new cases of nonmelanoma cancer occur each year.
- The incidence of melanoma has increased by close to 10 times over the last 20 to 30 years and is increasing in frequency in people under the age of 40.
- Sunlight is the most important cause of melanoma and other skin cancers, as well as premature skin aging (photoaging).
- The risk of melanoma and nonmalignant skin cancer rises with more frequency and length of time using indoor tanning devices, especially when tanning starts young (in the 20s and 30s). Newer tanning technology does not appear to be any safer than older tanning beds. The World Health Organization has labeled tanning beds a carcinogen.
- Some studies have found that taking aspirin is associated with a lower risk of melanoma. However, many studies contradict one another and aspirin can have unwanted side effects. More research is needed to assess benefits, dosages, and timing of aspirin.
- People with a family history of melanoma have approximately twice the risk of developing melanoma as those without a family history. Some genetic defects have been identified but there are others that remain unknown.
- A genetic mutation in a gene called BRAF occurs in approximately 50% of patients with advanced melanoma.
- A number of biologic agents have been approved or are being studied for the treatment of high-risk melanoma.
- Many therapeutic melanoma vaccines are in the advanced stages of testing, but none is approved for use in the United States at this time. Combined vaccine and biologic therapies are under study and show promising results.
- The best way to lower your risk for skin cancer is to protect your skin from the sun and UV light.
- Use sunscreens that block out both UVA and UVB radiation. Reapply every 15 to 30 minutes while out in the sun.
- Do not rely on sunscreen alone for sun protection. Also wear protective clothing and sunglasses.