Skin Cancer

Overview

Skin cancer is the type of cancer that develops on your skin. It occurs due to the abnormal growth of skin cells. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the Western world, and it is becoming prevalent in developing countries.

It develops mainly on areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun including face, neck, ears, scalp, lips, chest, hands, and arms, as well as on the legs in women. It can also affect areas that are not exposed to sunlight such as toenails, palms, and even in the genital area.

There are several types of skin cancers, but the most common ones are melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma. Melanoma skin cancer is the most dangerous type, but it is less common compared to the other types.

The World Health Organization reports that the incidence of both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers has been increasing over the past decades. Presently, approximately 3 million non-melanoma skin cancers and 132,000 melanoma skin cancers occur worldwide every year.

At least 1 in 3 cancers diagnosed is skin cancer and an estimated 40% to 50% of fair-skinned people who live to be elderly (65 or older) will develop at least one type of skin cancer.

All types of skin cancers can be successfully treated if diagnosed and treated early. If you have skin cancer, it is significant to know which type you have because it affects your treatment options and the outlook.

Symptoms

Squamous cell and basal cell carcinoma are the two good examples of non-melanoma skin cancer. Different types of skin cancers have different signs and symptoms.

However, some symptoms are common in nearly all skin cancer types. Individuals are advised to frequently examine their entire body, from head to toe and take note of symptoms such as:

  • Moles or growths that have grown
  • Any new moles developing
  • Lesions that change, bleed, itch, or have not healed
  • Moles or growths that have changed immensely in another way
  • Abnormal brown or pink spot, mole or patch – it’s the most common sign

Specific signs and symptoms of basal cell carcinoma include waxy or pearly bump, flat and flesh-colored scar-like lesion, and a bleeding or scabbing sore that heals and returns. This type of skin cancer is common in sun-exposed areas of the neck and face.

Specific symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma include a firm, red nodule and a flat lesion with the scaly or crusted surface.

The signs and symptoms of melanoma, which may develop anywhere on your body, include a mole that changes color; a large brownish spot; a small lesion that appears pink, red, white, blue or blue-black; a painful lesion that burns or itches, and dark lesions on the soles, palms, toes, or fingertips.

Causes

Skin cancer takes place when mutations (errors) occur in the DNA of skin cells. The growth of the cells become uncontrollable and forms an accumulation of cancer cells.

The skin cancer mostly begins on the top layer of your skin called epidermis. It is a thin layer whose function is to cover the skin cells that are continuously shed by the body.

The epidermis contains different types of cells that include squamous cells, basal cells, and melanocytes. The specific place where cancer begins determines its type and the overall treatment.

Most of the damage that occurs on the DNA in skin cells originate from ultraviolet (UV) radiation present in sunlight and in the lights used in tanning beds.

Other contributing factors may include exposure to toxic substances or having a condition that weakens your immune system.

Note that tattoos do not cause skin cancer, but they increase the risk of skin cancer if placed close to or over a mole.

Risk Factors

  • Fair skin (less pigment/melanin) increases the risk
  • A history of sunburns
  • Exposure to excessive sun
  • Sunny or high-altitude climates especially those in sunny and warm climates
  • Precancerous skin lesions
  • A family history of skin cancer
  • A personal history of skin cancer
  • Exposure to radiation therapy
  • A weakened immune system especially for people living with HIV/AIDS
  • Exposure to certain substances such as arsenic

Diagnosis

The doctor will examine the skin and take a medical history. The doctor will likely ask when the mark first appeared and whether its appearance has changed or not. He or she will also want to know whether it is itchy, painful, and/or bleeds.

The doctor will also ask about your family history and other risk factors, such as lifetime sun exposure. The doctor may also check the entire body for other types of spots and moles.

If they feel lymph nodes, they will determine if it is enlarged or not.

If the doctor suspects skin cancer, he or she will refer you to a dermatologist, a skin doctor who will:

  • Examine the mark using a dermatoscope
  • Take a small sample of your skin through biopsy and send it to a lab to check for signs of cancer.

Treatment

The doctors normally remove basal cell and squamous cell cancers by conducting minor surgery.

Radiation therapy is another treatment option when an individual cannot go through surgery. The doctor may recommend this treatment when the cancer is located in a place where surgery would not be possible such as the nose, eyelids, or ears.

For melanoma skin cancer, the ideal treatment would largely depend on the stage and location of cancer. If the diagnosis is made early, the possible treatment would be surgery.

In certain situations, doctors may recommend other types of radiation therapy or surgery. Generally, surgery is the primary treatment option for skin cancer.

Prevention

  • Avoid the sun during the middle of the day when the sun is very hot, and clouds offer little protection from damaging rays.
  • Wear sunscreen year-round: This is mostly used by the light-skinned people, but other people can also use it to be safe from radiations.
  • Wear protective clothing that prevents UV rays
  • Avoid tanning beds to prevent UV rays on the bed
  • Be aware of sun-sensitizing medications such as antibiotics
  • Check your skin regularly and report changes to the doctor

For more information on diagnosis and/or treatment, speak to a doctor, or get access to a hospital near you through the Uzima Health App.