Skin is the largest organ in your body and acts as your first defense against infection. It also protects your internal organs from injuries and helps keep you hydrated.
But your skin is also vulnerable to disease and other problems. A few common conditions that affect the skin include psoriasis, eczema and acne.
Skin is the largest organ in the body
The skin is the largest organ in your body, weighing in at over 8 pounds and 22 square feet. This external body covering helps protect your internal organs, keeping them warm and comfortable and providing the sense of touch.
It also acts as a barrier to harmful substances, chemicals and temperature changes. And it is a major source of vitamin D, the sunshine-derived vitamin that helps your body absorb calcium and regulate your blood pressure.
Your skin is made up of three layers: the epidermis, dermis and subcutaneous tissue (also called hypodermis or subcutis). The epidermis is the outer layer of skin that is constantly being shed and renewed by cells.
This layer has a number of different cell types including keratinocytes, melanocytes and Langerhans cells. It produces the pigment melanin, which absorbs ultraviolet light from the sun and reduces your risk of developing skin cancer.
The epidermis also serves as a reservoir of immune cells that help protect you from bacteria, viruses and fungi. The epidermis is also a major source of hormones and other chemical messengers that help the body stay healthy and functioning.
You can take care of your skin by eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly and staying away from stress. These habits will help your skin stay healthy and look its best.
Having good skin health is important for overall wellness and can be treated by your healthcare provider, who can recommend medications, supplements and other treatments. Your skin can also be protected from the sun’s rays with a sunscreen.
Your skin has its own microbiome, just like the intestines, and it is part of your body’s innate anatomical barrier to protect your interior from germs. The cutaneous microbiome is made up of millions of viruses, bacteria and fungi that interact with the skin’s own immune system to inhibit or kill foreign organisms.
Your skin is constantly being replaced with new cells, and it renews itself at a rate of 30,000 cell divisions per minute. The cycle of cell production and replacement takes about 28 days.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S.
Skin health is essential to overall well-being. It protects your body against sun damage, infections and other illnesses. It also helps you to maintain a healthy weight, look and feel good.
It’s important to take steps to prevent skin cancer and see a dermatologist at least once a year for professional skin checks. These yearly visits can help to detect early signs of cancer, before it spreads to other parts of the body and becomes life-threatening.
Most skin cancers can be cured when caught early. The 5-year survival rate is 99% for basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers, and 93% for melanoma of the skin.
The main cause of skin cancer is exposure to too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation, most commonly from the sun and tanning devices. However, other factors can increase your risk of developing skin cancer, such as genetics, family history and skin pigmentation.
Men are more likely to get skin cancer than women. This may be due to their behavior patterns, such as not protecting themselves or not taking the necessary steps to care for their skin.
If you’re at high risk for skin cancer, talk to your doctor about ways to reduce your UV exposure, such as wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, wide-brimmed hats, sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and seeing your dermatologist regularly for a professional checkup.
For people who have a high risk for skin cancer, it’s especially important to seek treatment as soon as possible. Most people diagnosed with melanoma are cured if their tumor is found and removed before it spreads to lymph nodes or other parts of the body.
Among whites, the five-year survival rate is 92 percent. For Hispanics, the rate is 67%; and for blacks, it’s 79%.
Despite the fact that skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer, it’s still not well understood why some people develop it and others don’t. Some factors that contribute to the increased risk of melanoma include fair skin, freckling or red or blond hair.
Skin cancer can be prevented
Skin cancers can be prevented by limiting your exposure to the sun and other sources of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. This includes avoiding tanning booths and sun lamps, and using sunscreen that has an SPF of 15 or higher.
Protecting your skin from the sun is important any time of year, but especially during spring and summer when the sun’s rays are strongest. The skin’s protective layer is thinnest during the day, so it is more likely to be damaged by UV rays.
Exposure to the sun can cause changes in your skin that could turn into a cancer, called melanoma or basal cell carcinoma. People with fair skin, blond or red hair and blue or green eyes are more likely to develop these cancers.
These cancers are usually found on the head and neck, but can occur elsewhere on the body, including the ears, shoulders, arms, hands and legs. They can also develop in areas that are less sun-exposed, such as between your toes, under your fingernails and on the palms of your hands.
Changes in the size, shape or color of moles or other skin spots are a warning sign that skin cancer may be present. If you notice any of these changes, make an appointment with your doctor.
Precancerous or cancerous skin growths are another warning sign that skin cancer might be developing. These are often small, red or pink, scaly patches of skin that can develop into a cancer over time.
The most common type of skin cancer is melanoma. This cancer occurs in the cells that give your skin its color, known as melanocytes. This kind of cancer is more likely to develop on the chest and back in men and on the legs in women.
Other types of skin cancer include squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. Squamous cell carcinomas are less common than melanoma but can occur anywhere on the body.
Both basal and squamous cell cancers are more likely to develop on areas of the body that receive the most sun, like the face, ears, neck, arms and legs. The most dangerous form of skin cancer, melanoma, occurs in the deepest layers of the skin. It is the most deadly form of skin cancer and accounts for about 90% of all skin cancer cases.
Skin cancer can be treated
If skin cancer is detected early, treatment can be effective. It is best to consult with a health care provider to learn about the most appropriate treatments for you.
Topical chemotherapy: These medications are applied directly to the surface of the skin, where they can destroy cancer cells without damaging healthy tissue. They can also help control the growth of precancerous lesions, called actinic keratoses, which may develop into skin cancers if not treated. They may be given to people with melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma of the skin, or to people with other types of non-melanoma cancers that have spread to nearby lymph nodes.
Chemotherapy: These medicines may be used to treat basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma that has spread or is unresectable, or melanoma that is no longer growing but is showing signs of spreading to other parts of the body. The medicine may be given as an injection or as a topical cream. Side effects of these drugs include fatigue, low blood cell counts and rashes.
Curettage and electrodesiccation: This procedure is a common way to remove basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. It involves scraping the tumor with a sharp tool and then using an electric current to burn, cut or clot cancerous cells. Many people have a flat scar from this procedure.
Cryosurgery: This treatment kills precancerous and cancerous skin cells by freezing them with liquid nitrogen. The dead cells slough off after treatment, but they can sometimes form scars if the area isn’t covered with enough healthy skin.
Photodynamic therapy (PDT): This treatment uses a special drug that is absorbed by the cancer cells and then activated by sunlight. The drug is then turned into a different chemical, making the cancer cells very sensitive to specific light. The treatment is usually done in the doctor’s office, but it may be offered at home when large areas need to be treated.
Radiation therapy: This treatment uses high-energy rays or other particles to destroy cancer cells. This is often recommended to treat skin cancer in hard-to-reach places, such as the eyelid, ear, nose or head. It may also be recommended after surgery to prevent cancer from returning in the same location.