Melanoma & Other Skin Cancers

Skin cancers are broadly classified as melanoma and non-melanomas. More than 1 million cases of non-melanoma are diagnosed each year, making it the most common cancer in the United States. Melanoma occurs less frequently, with approximately 68,000 new cases diagnosed in 2010.

The number of people affected by both types of skin cancer has increased substantially over the past several decades. Increased exposure to the sun is thought to be the cause of this increase.

About Skin Cancer

Melanomas and non-melanomas are cancers that originate in the outer layer of the skin, or the epidermis. The epidermis is made up of three kinds of cells. Skin cancers are defined by the type of cell from which they develop. Squamous cell carcinoma arises from squamous cells, — thin flat cells that make up the top layer of the epidermis. Basal cell carcinoma develops in basal cells — round cells that lie beneath the layer of squamous cells.

These two types of skin cancer are referred to as non-melanoma to distinguish them from melanoma, which develops in melanocytes. Melanocytes form the bottom layer of the epidermis and determine the skin color of an individual. Nonmelanomas are relatively slow growing and rarely spread (metastasize). In contrast, melanoma cells are much more likely to invade nearby lymphatic vessels and/or spread to other parts of the body, making them potentially more harmful. They are the focus here.




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