The skin is the body’s largest organ. It protects against heat,
sunlight, injury, and infection. Skin also helps control body temperature and stores water, fat, and vitamin D. The skin has several layers, but the two main layers are the epidermis (upper or outer layer) and the dermis (lower or inner layer). Skin cancer begins in the epidermis, which is made up of 3 kinds of cells:
Skin cancer can occur anywhere on the body, but it is most common in skin that has been exposed to sunlight, such as the face, neck, hands, and arms. There are several types of cancer that start in the skin. The most common types are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, which are nonmelanoma skin cancers. Actinic keratosis is a skin condition that sometimes develops into squamous cell carcinoma.
This summary refers to the treatment of nonmelanoma skin cancer and actinic keratosis. Nonmelanoma skin cancers rarely spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma, the rarest form of skin cancer, is more likely to invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. Refer to the following PDQ summaries for information on melanoma and other kinds of skin cancer:
Risk factors for basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma include the following:
Risk factors for actinic keratosis include the following:
Not all changes in the skin are a sign of nonmelanoma skin cancer or actinic keratosis, but a doctor should be consulted if changes in the skin are seen.
Possible signs of nonmelanoma skin cancer include the following:
Possible signs of actinic keratosis include the following:
The following procedures may be used:
The prognosis (chance of recovery) depends mostly on the stage of the cancer and the type of treatment used to remove the cancer.
Treatment options depend on the following:
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