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How does skin cancer start?

Skin cancer is the abnormal growth of skin cells that is caused by problems with those cells' DNA. Common causes of that disruption of DNA include UV radiation from sun exposure and other ionizing radiation, chronic inflammation, immunosuppression, exposure to certain toxins or drugs, smoking, diet and genetic and inherited disorders.
Dr. Ellen Marmur, MD
Dermatology

Cancer is a case of normal cells going bad and then growing at an alarming rate. This population of abnormal cells becomes more and more massive until they take over resources of blood supply and nutrients. It's an unchecked revolution in your body. "Oncogenesis" is the medical name for this process of transformation that occurs when healthy cells become malignant. In skin cancer it begins with UV radiation causing DNA damage, which in turn causes all kinds of genes to be triggered. For example, there is a specific gene (the P53 tumor suppressor gene) whose job is to regulate the cell growth cycle and to stop tumors. This gene is like an intelligence spy in the field. When it spots something wrong, P53 calls on other genes to create a cell-cycle blockade to stop the growth of the cell so the DNA can be repaired. If a cell has been damaged beyond repair, P53 can induce apoptosis, or programmed cell death. The damaged cell basically commits suicide, shutting down forever. ("Apoptosis" comes from a Greek word meaning "leaves falling off trees," and the same thing happens here, genetically.) This prevents the retention of mutations. If a cell can't stop to fix its DNA damage, that cell will make a new population of mutated cells, and that is cancer. If the P53 gene, the guardian of the DNA program or genome, is traumatized by sun damage, a mutant population of cells can proliferate. Skin cancers usually occur after years of cumulative sun damage has inactivated P53 tumor suppressor genes, disarmed the immune system, and generated mutant populations of cells that now can grow out of control.

Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman's Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin

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Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman's Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin

What if a leading dermatologist just happened to be your best friend and you could ask her anything? DR. ELLEN MARMUR, a world-renowned New York City dermatologist, answers all your questions with...

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.