What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer happens when normal cells in the skin change into abnormal cells. There are 2 main types of skin cancer: melanoma and non-melanoma. Non-melanoma skin cancer can occur anywhere on the skin, but is often on the head, face, neck, back of the hands, arms, and legs. This is because those body parts are most exposed to the sun’s rays.
Skin cancer is often caused by sun exposure and sunburn. In fact, the damaging effects of the sun build up over time. The more you are exposed to the sun (or to tanning beds) in your life, the higher your risk of skin cancer.
The 2 most common types of non-melanoma skin cancer are called “basal cell carcinoma” and “squamous cell carcinoma.” Most forms of non-melanoma skin cancer can be easily treated because they grow slowly. But if not treated, some non-melanoma skin cancers can become large or spread inside the body.
Is there a test for skin cancer?
Yes. Your doctor will do an exam and check the skin all over your body. If he or she suspects you have skin cancer, you will have a follow-up test called a biopsy. During a biopsy, a doctor will take a small sample of the abnormal area or remove the whole abnormal area. Then another doctor will look at the skin cells under a microscope to check for cancer.
If your doctor suspects that your skin cancer has spread inside your body, you will have other follow-up tests. These can include a biopsy from tissue inside your body, or imaging tests. Imaging tests create pictures of the inside of the body and can show abnormal growths.
The right treatment for you will depend a lot on the type of skin cancer you have, and its size and location. It will also depend on your age and other health problems.