Fortunately, if skin cancer is identified and treated early, most are cured. This is why it is important to take a few safeguards and to talk with your healthcare provider if you think you have any signs of skin cancer.
The main cause of skin cancer is overexposure to sunlight, especially when it results in sunburn and blistering. Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun damage DNA in your skin, causing abnormal cells to form. These abnormal cells rapidly divide in a disorganized manner, forming a mass of cancer cells.
The most common warning sign of skin cancer is a change on your skin, typically a new growth, or a change in an existing growth or mole. The signs and symptoms of common and less common types of skin cancers are described below.
Squamous cell cancer is most commonly seen on sun-exposed areas of skin including your hands, face, arms, legs, ears, mouths, and even bald spots on the top of your head. This skin cancer can also form in areas such as mucus membranes and genitals.
Melanoma can develop in any area of your body. It can even form on your eyes and internal organs. The upper back is a common site in men; legs are a common site in women. This is the most serious type of skin cancer because it can spread to other areas of your body.
Be alert to pre-cancerous skin lesions that can develop into non-melanoma skin cancer. They appear as small scaly, tan or red spots, and are most often found on surfaces of the skin chronically exposed to the sun, such as the face and backs of the hands.
If you have a mole or other skin lesion that is causing you concern, make an appointment and show it to your healthcare provider. They will check your skin and may ask you to see a dermatologist and have the lesion further evaluated.
Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare cancer that begins at the base of the epidermis, the top layer of your skin. This cancer starts in Merkel cells, which share of the features of nerve cells and hormone-making cells and are very close to the nerve ending in your skin. Merkel cell cancer is more likely to spread to other parts of the body than squamous or basal cell skin cancer.
If a skin lesion is suspicious, a biopsy may be performed. In a biopsy, a sample of tissue is removed and sent to a laboratory to be examined under a microscope by a pathologist. Your dermatologist will tell you if your skin lesion is skin cancer, what type you have and discuss treatment options.
With this procedure, the visible, raised area of the tumor is removed first. Then your surgeon uses a scalpel to remove a thin layer of skin cancer cells. The layer is examined under a microscope immediately after removal. Additional layers of tissue continue to be removed, one layer at a time, until no more cancer cells are seen under the microscope.
In this therapy, your skin is coated with medication and a blue or red fluorescent light then activates the medication. Photodynamic therapy destroys precancerous cells while leaving normal cells alone.
In most cases, skin cancer can be prevented. The best way to protect yourself is to avoid too much sunlight and sunburns. Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun damage your skin, and over time this may lead to skin cancer.
Nearly all skin cancers can be cured if they are treated before they have a chance to spread. The earlier skin cancer is found and removed, the better your chance for a full recovery. Ninety percent of those with basal cell skin cancer are cured. It is important to continue following up with a dermatologist to make sure cancer does not return. If something seems wrong, call your doctor right away.
If you have fair skin and spent quite a bit of time in the sun without sun protection, you may notice rough patches on your skin. Rough patches frequently develop on our hands because the hands get lots of sun.
Treatment: Laser treatment is often the go-to treatment today. During this procedure, your dermatologist inserts a laser fiber into the vein and then fires the laser. This destroys the vein, which will gradually disappear.
Treatment: To treat brittle nails successfully, you must stop doing everything that could be causing your brittle nails. Spending lots of time with wet hands or using harsh chemicals without wearing protective gloves can cause brittle nails.
Protect your hands from the sun. This is essential if you want to maintain the results you see after treatment. Many dermatologists also recommend wearing a thin, sun-protective glove while driving.
Keep appointments for maintenance treatments. If your dermatologist treated you in the office, getting follow-up treatments as recommended can help you maintain your results. For example, if you had a filler, you may need another injection in 8 to 12 months.
Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that begins in the cells (melanocytes) that control the pigment in your skin. This illustration shows melanoma cells extending from the surface of the skin into the deeper skin layers.
The exact cause of all melanomas isn't clear, but exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or tanning lamps and beds increases your risk of developing melanoma. Limiting your exposure to UV radiation can help reduce your risk of melanoma.
Moles are usually harmless. They may contain hairs or become raised or wrinkled. Talk to your doctor about any change in the color or size of a mole or if itching, pain, bleeding or inflammation develops.
Melanomas can also occur in areas that don't receive much sun exposure, such as the soles of your feet, palms of your hands and fingernail beds. These hidden melanomas are more common in people with darker skin.
Melanomas can also develop in areas of your body that have little or no exposure to the sun, such as the spaces between your toes and on your palms, soles, scalp or genitals. These are sometimes referred to as hidden melanomas because they occur in places most people wouldn't think to check. When melanoma occurs in people with darker skin, it's more likely to occur in a hidden area.
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Skin cancer begins in the cells that make up the outer layer (epidermis) of your skin. One type of skin cancer called basal cell carcinoma begins in the basal cells, which make skin cells that continuously push older cells toward the surface. As new cells move upward, they become flattened squamous cells, where a skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma can occur. Melanoma, another type of skin cancer, arises in the pigment cells (melanocytes).
UV light doesn't cause all melanomas, especially those that occur in places on your body that don't receive exposure to sunlight. This indicates that other factors may contribute to your risk of melanoma.
You absorb UV radiation year-round, and clouds offer little protection from damaging rays. Avoiding the sun at its strongest helps you avoid the sunburns and suntans that cause skin damage and increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Sun exposure accumulated over time also may cause skin cancer.
Wear protective clothing. Cover your skin with dark, tightly woven clothing that covers your arms and legs, and a broad-brimmed hat, which provides more protection than does a baseball cap or visor.
Become familiar with your skin so that you'll notice changes. Examine your skin often for new skin growths or changes in existing moles, freckles, bumps and birthmarks. With the help of mirrors, check your face, neck, ears and scalp.
Examine your chest and trunk and the tops and undersides of your arms and hands. Examine both the front and back of your legs and your feet, including the soles and the spaces between your toes. Also check your genital area and between your buttocks.
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Those are the basic facts, but some questions might remain: How should you get vitamin D? How much should you get and when should you worry about your levels? In light of these common questions, our Yale Medicine doctors help clear up some confusion about vitamin D, separating fact from fiction.
You can now get 50,000 IU tablets over the counter. There are patients with specific issues who might need a prescription for high levels of vitamin D, but for most people, that amount will raise your vitamin D level too high.
There are some people (who are typically not dermatologists or experts in the biology of skin cancer) who have advocated for tanning to get vitamin D. But we know that UVB light causes skin cancer and that protecting yourself against it makes sense. As a doctor who treats patients who have melanomas, I want the general public to be advised that under no circumstances can use of a tanning bed or tanning in general be justified on the basis of vitamin D. Take a supplement instead.