Water, sunlight, and warmth are essential to life. People require frequent exposure to natural sunlight in order to produce Vitamin D, an essential vitamin needed for growth, and to develop healthy bones and teeth. In recent decades, however, sunlight has also been implicated as a cause of some types of skin cancer.
While both types of ultraviolet rays are associated with skin cancer, some skin cancers are caused by genetic factors. In fact, recent research has indicated that cell mutation and abnormal genes probably play a much more significant role in the development of skin cancer than was originally believed.
Although anyone may develop skin cancer, some persons are at higher risk than others are. Those persons who should be concerned most about sunlight exposure include individuals with fair skin, those who live in areas that are close to the equator, and those who spend a significant amount of time outside.
Three primary kinds of skin cancer have been identified. Each of these is associated with a particular skin cell. The first of these is called basal cell carcinoma, and begins in the skin’s basal cells. Nine-tenths of all individuals diagnosed with skin cancer in the United States have this kind. Since it grows slowly and usually does not spread, it is considered to be the least serious variety with which a person can be diagnosed.
The second type is more serious than basal cell carcinoma, but is also a nonmelanoma. Squamous cell cancer affects keratinocyte, cells in the outer layer, or epidermis, of the skin. This type does spread in approximately three percent of all sufferers, but usually spreads slowly. Therefore, it can often be diagnosed and surgically removed before it affects other body organs.
A few other types of nonmelanoma skin cancer do exist, but they are extremely rare. Less than one person in 100 who develops a nonmelanoma cancer will develop one of these kinds. These cancers include Kaposi’s sarcoma, Merkel cell carcinoma, and T cell lymphoma of the skin.
The final type is most serious. Melanoma is a cancer that originates in melanocytes, the cells responsible for producing melanin. The amount of melanin present in skin tissue determines the lightness or darkness of the skin’s color. Malignant melanoma can spread rapidly and invade vital organs and other body tissues. Prompt diagnosis and treatment is crucial to a successful cure.
Each of these types of skin cancer is usually curable when detected and treated early. For this reason, it is extremely important to take note of any skin changes, and to report these to a physician as soon as they are noticed.