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Skin cancer

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The skin is the body’s largest organ. It protects against heat, sunlight, injury and infection. Skin also helps with body temperature and stores water, fat and vitamin D.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. The two most common types of skin cancer are: 

  • Basal cell
  • Squamous cell carcinomas

Skin cancer can usually be cured. Sometimes treatments can leave scars. 

Melanoma is the third most common skin cancer. This kind of skin cancer is more dangerous. Melanoma causes most skin cancer deaths. Most skin cancer happens when people are exposed to too much ultraviolet (UV) light.

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FAQs

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  • Skin cancer happens when malignant (cancer) cells grow in skin tissue. 

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  • Often skin cancer is found because people notice a change in their skin. Sometimes the change could be a new growth, a change in a skin mole or a sore on the skin that doesn't heal. Talk to your doctor if you notice changes in your skin. 

    Learn more about spotting signs of skin cancer.

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  • There are many ways to find skin cancer. Your doctor might do one or more of the following:

    • A physical exam, including a full skin exam to look for anything that’s not normal 
    • Ask about your family medical history as well as yours
    • A biopsy (taking a sample of tissue from your body and testing it) 
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  • Anyone can get skin cancer, but some people have a greater chance of getting it.  

    People with a greater chance of getting skin cancer include people with:

    • A lighter natural skin color
    • Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily or becomes painful in the sun
    • Blue or green eyes
    • Blonde or red hair
    • Certain types and a large number of moles
    • A family history of skin cancer
    • A personal history of skin cancer
    • Older age
    • Being around UV light
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  • Try not to get too much UV light. It's important to remember this all year, not just in the summer. Many people don't know you can get too much UV light even on a cloudy day or in winter. 

    Some other tips include:

    • Wear a hat to shade your face, head and neck
    • Stay in the shade, if possible
    • Wear clothes that cover your skin
    • Wear sunglasses that help block UV rays 
    • Always use sunscreen when you’re outside 
    • Don’t use tanning beds 

    Learn more about how to lower your chances of getting skin cancer.

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  • How we care for skin cancer depends on many factors: 

    • Type of cancer
    • Size of the cancer
    • Where the cancer is located in the body 
    • Stage of cancer 

    Your doctor will work with you to find the right care plan for you. Some examples of treatment include:

    • Surgery to remove cancer 
    • Chemical peels to remove some skin layers  
    • Chemotherapy (using medication to make the cancer smaller or to kill cancer cells)
    • Radiation (using X-rays to kill cancer cells) 
    • Photodynamic therapy that uses medications and light 
    • Targeted therapy (using drugs to stop cancer cells from growing and spreading)
    • Other medications  
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