Like all cancers, skin cancer is caused when the cells are exposed to some external environmental condition. This causes the cells, or more specifically the genes in the cell to mutate and become known as a oncogene. An oncogene promotes tumor growth. In many cases of cancer it is not always clear what the environmental condition or conditions may be. In fact, it may not be just one condition that promotes cancer growth but a multitude of them making it harder to prevent the development of the disease. In the case of skin cancer, the environmental condition is thought to be exposure to ultraviolet radiation. And the most common source of ultraviolet radiation that most people are exposed to is sunlight.
However, some people can be exposed to sunlight more than others and never appear to develop skin cancers. It seems that some people are more sensitive to the ultraviolet radiation than others (although too much exposure to the sun will result in skin cancer for most people eventually). This is true and is based on the amount of melanin in the body. Melanin is the body’s natural defense against the sun. It turns the skin brown as a way prevent it from burning. This is the tan that many people cultivate.
People with low amounts of melanin will have paler skin. The skin will most likely turn red rather than brown and will burn before it tans (if it tans at all) depending on the melanin level. This is fair common knowledge to most people. Indeed, people with pale or blue eyes and fair hair are in the same category. They are likely to burn in the sun and this suggests that they have been exposed to too much ultraviolet radiation.
Even if you do not fit this genetic makeup, you are still susceptible to skin cancer if your family has a history of developing the disease.
The effects of skin cancer can vary. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. It will often look like a mark on the skin that could be brown or red. It may be raised from the skin or flat to begin with. It generally doesn’t spread and is considered to be a benign cancer. It can appear anywhere on the body but mainly on areas that are directly exposed to the sunlight.
Squamous cell carcinoma is another form of skin cancer that is normally found on parts of the body that are exposed to sunlight. Again, it does not always spread from the original location but is more likely to spread than basal cell. If it does spread it will normally only spread to surrounding cells. So if it is on the surface of the skin you will notice a mark that is brown or red that starts to get larger over time.
Melanoma are the third type of skin cancer. They are the most serious and rarest form of skin cancer. They can appear anywhere on the body and are not uncommon in parts of the body that are not normally exposed to the sun, like the feet. They could take the form of a brown spot that gets larger or simply a lump under the skin.
A Melanoma can be malignant, meaning that they will continue to grow in a random fashion at an uncontrolled rate. This becomes a problem when the melanoma becomes invasive. This means it will interfere with surrounding tissues and organs to the extent that it destroys them or stops them functioning properly.
Depending on where the cancer spreads or metastasizes this can be extremely hard to treat and potentially life threatening.
Limiting your exposure to sunlight and other forms of ultraviolet radiation is the best preventative care you can take. Getting your skin checked out from time to time by your doctor is also a good idea. This is especially good advice if you notice any new or unusual moles or spots on your skin. Or if these lesions appear to have changed in any way.