How common is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is the commonest type of cancer in the United States. The skin is the largest organ in the body with a surface area of around 2 sq ft in an average adult.
Skin cancer is the commonest type of cancer in the United States. The skin is the largest organ in the body with a surface area of around 2 sq ft in an average adult.

Skin cancer is the commonest type of cancer in the United States. The skin is the largest organ in the body with a surface area of around 2 sq ft in an average adult. It acts as a protective barrier against several types of harmful agents, including heat, injuries, light, and infections. Because of the crucial protective functions that the skin performs, it is vulnerable to various conditions, such as allergies, infections, burns, and even cancer.

Depending on the cell from which it originates, skin cancer can be of several types. The most common types of skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. These two types of skin cancers are curable unlike the third most common skin cancer called melanoma. Melanoma is the most dangerous skin cancer, causing many deaths. Even curable skin cancers can cause significant disfigurement to the affected person. Other types of skin cancers include lymphoma of the skin, Kaposi sarcoma, and Merkel cell skin cancer. Knowing the type of skin cancer is crucial for your doctor to decide your treatment.

Does skin cancer hurt to the touch?

In the case of melanoma, a painless mole may start getting tender, itchy, or painful.

Other skin cancers generally do not hurt to touch until they have advanced to become large. The peculiar absence of pain in a skin sore or a rash often directs the diagnosis toward skin cancer.

When skin cancer has grown considerably, it may ulcerate and cause symptoms, such as pain and discomfort. Skin cancer generally presents as:

  • New growth on the skin
  • A changing mole or a mole that looks different from others
  • A rough or scaly patch on the skin
  • A non-healing ulcer or sore or one that keeps coming back
  • A mole or spot that has an irregular shape or appearance
  • A skin patch or mole with an uneven color
  • A brown or black streak under a nail
  • A skin patch that itches or bleeds
  • A skin patch or growth that is increasing in size

Skin cancer can be detected quite easily since you can see the changes occurring on your skin. Sometimes skin cancer may arise at relatively concealed places, such as inside your mouth, around your genitals, or under a nail. Thus, you must examine yourself thoroughly, preferably in front of a mirror or with the help of your partner, friend, or family member, to look for any signs that may indicate skin cancer.

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Can you prevent skin cancer?

There is no particular way through which you can avoid getting skin cancer. Skin cancer can affect anyone. Certain risk factors for skin cancer, such as age, genetics, complexion, and race, cannot be modified. You may, however, lower your risk of skin cancer by avoiding certain factors that may put you at greater risk, such as:

  • Avoid exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. Excessive exposure to UV rays is regarded as the most important cause of skin cancer. This may be prevented by staying in shade as much as possible, avoiding going out when the sun is bright, covering yourself well when out in the sun, and applying sunscreen generously before stepping out during the day. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat when outdoors and avoiding the use of tanning beds and sun lamps are some other practices that should also be followed to lower skin cancer risk.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking including passive smoke can raise the risk of several cancers, including skin cancer.
  • Avoid exposure to harmful chemicals, such as arsenic. Arsenic may be present in certain water sources particularly well water, pesticides, herbicides, herbal medications, and supplements. Arsenic exposure may also occur in people involved in mining and smelting.

Skin cancer may occur even in the absence of any obvious risks. Thus, you must also be aware of identifying any early signs of the cancer so that early medical attention can be sought. Examination of your skin, mouth, and nails may be done monthly. If you have a history of skin cancer, your doctor may ask you to examine yourself more frequently. You may take the help of your partner or a family member for examining the areas that are difficult to see, such as the buttocks and back. Any suspicious-looking area must be brought to the doctor’s attention. It may not be skin cancer, but early diagnosis is important for managing any condition more effectively.

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Medically Reviewed on 4/16/2021
References
American Cancer Society. Signs and Symptoms of Basal and Squamous Cell Skin Cancers. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/basal-and-squamous-cell-skin-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-and-symptoms.html

American Academy of Dermatology. How Can I Tell if I Have Skin Cancer? https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/skin-cancer/find/know-how