Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

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Cancer Skin Anatomy

To better understand skin cancer, it helps to understand the anatomy of the skin.

The skin contains three main layers:

  • Epidermis:
    • The superficial layer that makes up the surface of the skin
    • It is composed of skin cells and can be divided into 5 layers based on cell type.
    • The top layer of the epidermis, the stratum corneum, is made of dead, flat skin cells that shed about every 2 weeks.
    • The thickness of the epidermis varies, according to location: it is very thick over the soles of the feet, and very thin over the ears.
  • Dermis:
    • Lies beneath the epidermis
    • Also varies in thickness depending on the location of the skin. It is .3 mm on the eyelid and 3.0 mm on the back.
    • The dermis is composed of 2 layers that contain a connective tissue called collagen
    • The dermis contains blood vessels, nerves, sweat glands, and hair follicles.
    • The number of structures in the dermis varies, according to location.
    • The dermis under the arms contains more sweat glands and hair follicles than the dermis on the back.
  • Subcutaneous layer:
    • Mainly fat and connective tissue.
    • Contains blood vessels and nerves.

Last Updated: Jan 4, 2011 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Cancer Skin References
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  2. Einspahr JG, Bowden GT, Alberts DS. Skin cancer chemoprevention: strategies to save our skin. Recent Results Cancer Res. 2003;163:151-64; discussion 264-6. [12903851]
  3. Ollstein RN. Skin lesions in the elderly: precancer and cancer. Care Manag J. 2004 Summer;5(2):107-11. [16047916]
  4. Saraiya M, Glanz K, Briss P, Nichols P, White C, Das D; Task Force on Community Preventive Services On reducing Exposure to Ultraviolet Light. Preventing skin cancer: findings of the Task Force on Community Preventive Services On reducing Exposure to Ultraviolet Light. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2003 Oct 17;52(RR-15):1-12. [14561953]
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