We all know how important it is to be checked by the dermatologist every year, even if we don’t do it or forget to do it. Many of us have seen a mole change shape or color on our skin or have some kind of blemish show up that gets us worried about skin cancer. Even though it’s a lot of fun to enjoy a day at the lake in the sun or lay out on the beach, it’s easy to forget the sunscreen and pay for it the next day with a bad sunburn. The main cause of skin cancer, specifically nonmelanoma skin cancers, is from exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. There are many different types of skin cancer but grouped together, 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.
Skin Cancer Diagnosis
In the United States more than 9,500 people are diagnosed with skin cancer every day, and more than two people die of the disease every hour. The annual cost of treating skin cancers in the U.S. is estimated at $8.1 billion. In addition to ultraviolet radiation exposure from the sun, indoor tanning, also exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, is the other big culprit for causing skin cancer. The Food and Drug Administration classifies UV tanning devices as Class II (moderate to high risk) as of September 2, 2014. Indoor tanning devices can emit UV radiation in amounts 10 – 15 times higher than the sun. More than 419,000 cases of skin cancer in the U.S. each year are connected to indoor tanning.
Skin cancer is classified into two main types: Non-melanoma skin cancer and Melanoma. The most common type of non-melanoma skin cancer is Basal cell carcinoma (BCC), with the second being Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). BCC and SCC start at the top layer of the skin called the epidermis and are typically related to sun exposure. The top layer of the skin is made up of the three main types of cells, which are squamous cells, basal cells, and melanocytes. BCC and SCC start from either the basal or squamous cells of the skin not functioning properly and growing out of control. One of the main ways to prevent BCC or SCC is by using sunscreen regularly, SPF 15 or higher.
Melanoma Cancers & Non-Melanoma Cancers
Melanoma skin cancer is caused when the melanocytes, the third type of cell that makes up the top layer of skin, grows out of control. Melanocytes are responsible for the tan or brown color of our skin. Melanoma is less common than non-melanoma skin cancer but is considered more dangerous because it’s more likely to spread to other parts of the body if not caught and treated early. Melanoma can develop anywhere on your body, but it is more likely to start on the chest and back of men and legs of women. The neck and face are also common sites for both genders. Having darkly pigmented skin actually lowers your risk of melanoma at the more common sites, but you would still have a risk to develop melanoma on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, or under your nails.
Causes of Skin Cancer
As discussed earlier, the main cause of skin cancer is exposure to UV radiation. However, there are skin cancers that are caused by an inherited genetic component. While different types of skin cancer can be part of a cancer genetic syndrome that also causes other types of cancer, there are two main cancer genetic syndromes in which skin cancer is the main component. Nevoid Basal Cell Carcinoma Syndrome (also known as Gorlin syndrome) is caused by a change in a gene called PTCH1 or SUFU. Each family member would be at 50% risk to inherit the changed gene. This condition typically causes jaw keratocysts, basal cell carcinomas, and distinct facial features, among possible other features. The second cancer genetic syndrome is called Familial Atypical Multiple Mole Melanoma syndrome (FAMMM). This condition is caused by a change in the gene CDKN2A or CDK4. Each family member would be at 50% risk to inherit this condition as well. This condition is characterized by the presence of multiple moles which can turn into melanoma. Families can also develop pancreatic cancer as part of this condition as well.
If you have a family history of skin cancer or a known genetic condition that causes skin cancer, contact AT-GC to speak with a genetic counselor and possible genetic testing options.