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Skin cancer is a disease in which cancer (malignant) cells are found in the outer layers of your skin. Your skin protects your body against heat, light, infection, and injury. The skin has two main layers and several kinds of cells. The top layer of skin is called the epidermis. It contains three kinds of cells: flat, scaly cells on the surface called squamous cells; round cells called basal cells; and cells called melanocytes, which give your skin its color.

Sunburn and ultraviolet (UV) light can damage your skin, and this damage can lead to skin cancer. There are, of course, other determining factors, including your heredity and the environment you live in. However, both the total amount of Sun received over the years, and overexposure resulting in sunburn can cause skin cancer. Tanning is your skin's natural response to UV light. It is a reaction, just like an allergic reaction, to prevent further injury to your skin from the Sun though it does not prevent skin cancer. Skin cancer is very slow to develop.

The connection between the sun's powerful ultraviolet UVA and UVB rays and skin cancer is indisputable. In a nutshell, overexposure to those rays ravages our skin cells, which are made up of two layers. The top layer, or epidermis, includes three types of cells: flat, scaly squamous cells; round basal cells; and melanocytes, the cells that give skin its color. It's these last cells that are most vulnerable. Too much sun prompts visible damage (like sunburn or tanning) as well as invisible, cellular-level damage that adds up over the years. Depending on the individual, that damage can eventually prompt wrinkles, age spots, and, often, skin cancer.

Be a skin cancer detective. With the summer sun high in the sky, that "savage tan" could lead to skin cancer. Know your risk factors and see your doctor for an annual screening. Keep covered in the sun and wear sunscreen. Watch for these warning signs:

  • Change in size, shape or color of a mole
  • Irregular shaped mole
  • Mole that turns blue, black, red or white
  • Oozing or bleeding from a mole
  • A pimple that does not heal
  • A new mole
  • Small skin bumps with a shiny surface or visible blood vessels
  • A small patch of dry skin that won't go away or comes back
  • A mole that feels itchy, hard, lumpy, swollen or tender to the touch

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Date of Last Update: 07/27/12