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Your Skin's Worst Enemies

As children, many of us were brought up with the notion that looking good meant lying out in the sun to achieve a tan. Little did we know the dangers of excessive sun exposure. Whether from the sun or a tanning salon, ultraviolet radiation in large doses is harmful.

Excessive sun exposure leads to skin cancer and premature aging of the skin and in some individuals, skin cancer. The good news is that most skin cancers are curable if they are caught and treated early. It is easy to routinely inspect your body for any skin changes. Should any growth, mole, sore or discoloration appear suddenly or begin to change, you should see your healthcare provider.

Here's a rundown of some of your skin's worst enemies:

Basal cell carcinoma

This is the most common type of skin cancer. It usually appears on sun-exposed areas of the body as small, non-healing growths or as a fleshy bump. Most commonly seen on the face, they are also frequently found on the ears, chest, back, arms and hands. It's found mainly in people with light hair, eyes and complexions (people who usually burn easily).

Fortunately, these tumors don't spread quickly. It may take many months or sometimes even years for one to reach a diameter of one-half inch. Left untreated, it can begin to bleed, crust over, and slowly invade the underlying fat, muscle, nerves and bones.

Basal cell carcinoma seldom spreads to other parts of the body and is rarely fatal.

Squamous cell carcinoma

These tumors appear as non-healing ulcers, nodules or red scaly patches. They are typically found on the rim of the ear, face, lips and mouth. They can develop into large masses and cause a lot of local destruction. This cancer, unlike basal cell carcinoma, can spread to other parts of the body and cause death. Both basal and squamous cell carcinoma are rarely found in people with dark skin. The cure rate is high when caught and properly treated.

Malignant melanoma

A very serious cancer characterized by the uncontrolled growth of pigment-producing cells, although melanoma can be non-pigmented. Melanoma can suddenly appear without warning within or near a mole or dark spot. It is found most frequently on women's legs and the upper backs of both women and men; however, it can appear anywhere on the body. Melanoma is believed to be event-driven—one or more sunburns during childhood or adolescence that sets the stage for developing melanoma at a later date. It is more common in light-skinned people. Past sunburns, sun exposure during youth and even heredity are factors in developing melanoma. Dark-skinned people also can develop it, especially on the hands and feet, under the nails and in the mouth. Treating melanoma in its early stage before it has metastasized, or invaded the deeper layer of skin, is usually successful. But once it grows and sinks into the skin, the chances of it spreading and causing death are greatly increased.