Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is also known as melanoma

By Sarah Leavitt, Medical Research EditorLast modified: March 21, 2011

Skin Cancer

The number of people diagnosed with skin cancer, or non-melanoma, is rising and every year over 1 million people are diagnosed with cancer of the skin. 


What is skin cancer?

The skin is the largest organ in the body and is made up of layers of cells. The top layer of cells acts as a protective barrier against the weather and external factors; the under layer of skin produces melanin, the cells that protect the rest of the skin from the suns rays. At the bottom of the skin layers are the basal cells that help produce all other layers of skin. 


Skin cancer can develop in either layer of skin cells and there are many different types of skin cancer.Unlike other cancers, skin cancer does not spread rapidly and can often be treated in a localized area before it spreads to the lymph glands and other areas. 


Types of skin cancer

The most common form of skin cancer is basal cell skin cancer. This cancer develops in the bottom layer of skin cells and is diagnosed in 75% of all skin cancer diagnoses. Basal skin cancer tends to be isolated and rarely spreads to other areas of the body. 


Squamous skin cancer develops in the top layer of skin and makes up averagely 20% of all skin cancer diagnosis.  


Other rarer forms of skin cancer are Merkel cell carcinoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, T cell lymphoma of the skin and Sarcoma. 


What causes skin cancer?

Skin cancer is caused by damage to the skin. Commonly skin cancer is caused by long term exposure to sunlight. Sunburn is the most dangerous trigger for skin cancer. 


People with fair skin or with a family history of skin cancer are at increased risk of developing the disease. 


Symptoms of skin cancer

Skin cancer symptoms may often be overlooked as they tend not to be painful or obvious. Skin cancer normally appears as a small risen lump, similar to a scab. Skin cancer can appear as a small risen pink lump that will be painful to touch. Sores caused by skin cancer may ulcerate and bleed if irritated.


Any cut, scab or risen lump on the skin that does not disappear within 4 weeks should be seen by a doctor.


Treatment for skin cancer

Skin cancer is usually treated by removing the damaged area of skin. It may be possible to treat the affected area with radiotherapy or intense light therapy as an alternative to surgery. Occasionally immunotherapy may be a suitable cure for skin cancer.


Once the skin cancer has been cured, and 98% of skin cancers can be cured effectively, the patient must take care to protect the skin from exposure to sunlight without protection.


For more information about skin cancer or for treatment advice, contact an oncologist.





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This article was written by the medical research team at does not intend for any of the information on this site to be regarded as medical advice - it is meant as a starting point for understanding treatment details and options before contacting a registered, licensed doctor. We advise all patients to seek medical advice from a doctor.
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