The different types of skin cancer: A brief guide

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 3, 2006

We tend to take it for granted, but our skin happens to the largest organ in our bodies. It covers and protects all the internal organs.

Our skin protects us from germs; it prevents the loss of too much water and other fluids and sends messages to the brain about heat, cold, touch and pain.

Skin has three layers: the epidermis, the dermis and the subcutis. The top layer, the epidermis, is very thin and serves to protect the deeper layers of skin and the organs. The epidermis also has three layers: an upper, a middle and a bottom layer composed of basal cells.

The basal cells divide to form keratinocytes, also called squamous cells, which make a protective substance called keratin. Melonacyte cells produce the pigment called melanin, which darkens the skin and helps protect the deeper layers of skin from the harmful effects of the sun.

Skin cancers are divided into melanomas and nonmelanomas cancers.

Nonmelanomas are the most common types of skin cancer; they develop from skin cells other than the melanocytes. Because they rarely spread elsewhere in the body, they cause less concern than melanomas. Most skin tumors are not cancerous and rarely if ever turn into cancer.

Melanoma is a cancer that begins in the melanocytes. Because most of these cells keep on making melanin, melanoma tumors are usually black or brown, but this is not always the case.

Melanoma often begins on the trunks of fair-skinned men and the legs of fair-skinned women, but it can occur elsewhere. It is almost always curable in its early stages, but it is also likely to spread to other parts of the body.

Much less common than basal cell or squamous cell skin cancers, it is far more serious in nature. Early detection is key to survival.

The Skin Care Foundation suggests following these simple steps to spot a suspicious-looking mole:

&uot;A&uot; stands for Asymmetry – the two sides of the mole do not match.

&uot;B&uot; stands for Border – the border are uneven.

&uot;C&uot; stands for Color – any change in color or variations in color.

&uot;D&uot; stands for Diameter – moles that are larger in diameter (over 1/4 inch or

6 mm, the size of a pencil eraser).

&uot;E&uot; stands for Evolving or Changing – moles that change in size, shape, color or elevation.

The thinner the melanoma, the greater the chances of a long-term survival. Make sure you check your skin on a regular basis.

For more information, visit or call 1-800-SKIN-490.