Skin Cancer | Overview

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What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. Fortunately, it is usually one of the most curable types of cancer.

The body is made up of many types of cells. Normally, cells grow, divide and die. Sometimes, cells mutate (change) and begin to grow and divide more quickly than normal cells. Instead of dying, these abnormal cells clump together to form tumors. If these tumors are cancerous (also called "malignant"), they can invade and kill your body's healthy tissues. From these tumors, cancer cells can metastasize (spread) and form new tumors in other parts of the body. By contrast, noncancerous tumors (also called "benign") do not spread to other parts of the body.

More than 1 million people will be diagnosed with skin cancer this year. Almost all skin cancers are the result of too much exposure to ultraviolet light, which is found in sunlight and in lights used in tanning salons.

What is melanoma?

There are 2 forms of skin cancer: melanoma (the less common but more serious kind) and nonmelanoma (the more common, very treatable type). Most skin cancers don’t spread, but melanoma is very serious. It can spread through the whole body. If it is found early, it can be cured. If it is found late, it may cause death.

Bibliography

See a list of resources used in the development of this information.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 05/14
Created: 01/96

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