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Skin Cancer Overview

The skin is the body's largest organ and protects against heat, light, injury and infection.  The skin also makes vitamin D, and stores water and fat.

Cells are the building blocks that make up the skin.  Normally these skin cells grow and divide to form new cells, but every day some skin cells grow old and die, with new cells taking their place.

Sometimes new cells form when the skin does not need them, and old or damaged cells don’t die when they should.  These extra cells can form a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor, which can be benign or malignant:

  • Benign growths are not cancer and are rarely life threatening.  They can generally be removed and do not grow back. Cells from benign growths do not invade the tissues around them and do not spread to other parts of the body.
  • Malignant growths are cancer.  Malignant growths can often be removed, but sometimes they grow back.  Cells from malignant growths can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs, and can spread to other parts of the body. The spread of cancer is called metastasis.