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Skin cancer

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From MayoClinic.com



Your skin (epidermis) is composed of two layers. Skin cancers may start in the outermost layer, which is made up of squamous cells. The innermost layer contains basal cells mixed together with cells called melanocytes. These latter cells produce melanin, the pigment that gives your skin its color. When skin is exposed to the sun, melanocytes produce more pigment, causing the skin to tan or darken. Clusters of melanocytes are what make up moles.

Normally, skin cells develop in an orderly manner within the epidermis. New cells push mature ones up toward the skin's surface. Once skin cells reach the surface, they die and are sloughed off.

Skin cancer is the abnormal, uncontrolled growth of skin cells. The main cause of skin cancer is damage to skin from ultraviolet (UV) radiation. This is a type of light that's given off by the sun and by special lights used for tanning. UV radiation can penetrate skin and damage skin cells over time. It's responsible for most cases of skin cancers. It's also to blame for wrinkles and age spots.

Two main types of UV radiation are ultraviolet A (UVA) radiation and ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation. UVA radiation penetrates skin more deeply than UVB radiation. Over time, exposure to UVA radiation can weaken your skin's defenses against cancer. UVB light is the cause of sunburn and plays a role in basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers.

UV radiation is also linked to melanoma, but this connection is not necessarily dependent on exposure over time. Studies suggest that people exposed to occasional periods of intense sunlight — such as indoor workers who spend vacations lying on a beach — are at greater risk of melanoma than are farmers, roofers and others who regularly spend long hours in the sun.

But sun exposure doesn't explain melanomas or other skin cancers that develop on skin not ordinarily exposed to sunlight, such as on the soles of your feet. It may be that heredity plays a role. Skin cancer can run in families. Rarely, skin cancer can develop from overexposure to toxic chemicals or as a result of radiation treatments. But the exact cause of skin cancer that develops on unexposed skin is unclear.


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