The main function of our skin is to protect our body from damage, injury and infection. Our skin is also responsible for maintaining our body temperature in a normal range and for storing water and fat. Skin cancer takes place when there is a development of abnormal cells at the top layer of the skin, known as the epidermis (made up of squamous cells, basal cells and melanocytes).
There are 3 main types of skin cancer:
- Basal cell skin cancers (basal cell carcinomas)
- Squamous cell skin cancers (squamous cell carcinomas)
Basal and squamous cell skin cancers (also known as nonmelanoma skin cancers) are the most common types of cancer, and generally develop due to sun exposure, in body parts like the head and the neck. These types of cancers rarely spread to other parts of the body, and are known to have a high response rate to treatment. Nevertheless, it is important to find and treat them early, because if left untreated, these cancers are likely to slowly spread to nearby tissues and organs, causing damage, and in rare cases, even death.
Melanomas develop in melanocytes, the cells that produce our pigment and give us our color. It is these melanocytes that form moles, also known as benign growths (non-cancerous). Melanomas are the most dangerous type of skin cancers and can form anywhere in the body, but are generally found in the chest and back area in men, and in the legs in women. Even though melanomas are not as common as nonmelanoma skin cancers, they tend to be more serious. Just like basal and squamous cell skin cancers, if detected early, melanomas can be curable. However, if left alone, this aggressive cancer is highly likely to spread to other parts of the body, making treatment much harder.
Other less common types of skin cancers exist, such as Merkel cell tumors or Kaposi sarcomas.