Skin Cancer: USA Today Health Reports: Diseases and Disorders
Introduction to Skin Cancer
The bodyís largest organ is not the heart or the brain. Itís not the lungs or the liver. The bodyís largest organ is the skin that covers you from head to toe. A personís skin weighs about 9 or 10 pounds (4 to 4.5 kilograms). Thatís triple the weight of the bodyís second largest organóthe liver. If someoneís skin were stretched out, it would cover 20 to 22 square feet (about 2 square meters).
An organ is a collection of cells and tissues that work together to perform certain functions. For example, skin keeps you warm and cools you off. It keeps you from drying out in the sun or getting waterlogged in the pool. Skin is soft and stretchy so you can jump and dance and run. Yet itís tough enough to protect your muscles and bones. Itís strong enough to hold all your organs in place. Skin never fails like a heart or liver. It is a miracle fabric that never wears out.
Even though skin performs dozens of important jobs, it doesnít get the respect it deserves. Skin asks only one thing of usóto protect it from the sun. For despite skinís strength, the ultraviolet radiation found in sunlight can damage it. It only takes a couple of childhood sunburns to increase the risk for getting skin cancer later in life. Even without burning, years of exposure to the sun while working outside or playing outdoor sports increases a personís chance of getting skin cancer.
When the ultraviolet radiation in sunlight damages skin cells, they may grow into tumors. A tumor is a general name for a collection of abnormal cells. Using tanning beds can be just as dangerous as getting sunburned. There are three common forms of skin cancer. They are named for the type of skin cell where each begins: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
More than 1 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year. Each year 11,600 of them die from it. The number of people with melanoma, the most dangerous kind of skin cancer, has steadily increased since 1970. Doctors blame most of the rise in skin cancer on the increased amount of time people are spending in the sun. In the United States, melanoma is the second most common cancer among adolescents and young adults between fifteen and twenty-nine years of age.
Yet skin cancer is largely preventable. When people protect themselves from the sun and use sunscreen, the risk of developing skin cancer drops sharply. And if detected early enough, most skin cancer can be treated and cured.