Skin, the largest human organ, insulates and cushions the inner organs of the body. This living and breathing element regularly turns over basal layer cells to create the smooth and fresh-looking skin that’s the hallmark of a youthful appearance. Despite these important functions, most individuals are more likely to think of skin as a convenient “wrapper” rather than an active organ unless something about the skin catches our day-to-day attention.
The Challenging Role of the Skin
Each day we put our skin through the paces of sun damage, harsh perfumes and chemical agents, and environmental pollution. Then we follow that damage by cleaning the skin with water that’s either too hot or too cold and cleansers that can be harsh and irritating. This external damage can show up in the form of sunburn, dry skin and other skin irritations. What we don’t see though are the mutations that occur below the surface in the dermis and subcutaneous layers of the skin.
Normal Replication Gone Rogue
Just below the epidermis, the uppermost layer of skin, lies the basal cell layer. This active sub-layer is responsible for creating skin cells. The production of new cells pushes old cells to the surface where they can shed. Melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, also can form within this layer. Cancer happens when DNA mutations produce malignancy in the melanocytes, which produce a skin’s coloration or pigment within the basal layer. The sneaky malignancy can even form in areas not exposed to UV rays or a tanning bed such as the palms of the hand, soles of the feet and under the fingernails and toenails. In men, melanoma is most common in the chest and back and in the legs for women. Melanoma is most prevalent in white men over the age of 50 with an estimated 73,870 new cases this year.
Silent Changes Underfoot
Melanoma, which can lie dormant for many years, is less common than other skin cancers but it is also the most deadly. Because of the underground nature of melanoma, it’s not uncommon for people to discover later-stage melanoma with few to no symptoms. Discovery often happens in the process of looking at other symptoms. Dormancy could be the cause of melanoma in former president Jimmy Carter who announced he will undergo treatment for metastatic melanoma in the brain. Earlier in the summer, President Carter underwent surgery to remove a mass on the liver. The energetic public figure and Habitat for Humanity advocate has a family history of cancer.
Melanoma Risk Factors
- UV light through sun exposure and tanning
- Lentigo – skin discolorations like a freckle or mole
- Light-colored skin, light hair
- Family history of skin disease
- Personal history of cancer
- Weakened immune system
- White male age 50 or older
The best way to assess for the presence of skin cancer is through regular full-body skin exams conducted by a dermatologist. Sunflower Dermatology and Medical Day Spa in Riverside, Missouri, offers photodynamic, medical dermatology, surgical dermatology, and cosmetic dermatology procedures. Achieve Better Skin for a Better Life and protect the largest organ in your body with help from Sunflower Dermatology & Medical Day Spa.