Skin cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the cells of the skin. It usually happens on the skin exposed to the sun. It is the most common type of cancer, and it occurs when the skin cells grow abnormally and uncontrollably.
Types of Skin Cancer
There are three main types of skin cancer –
- Basal cell carcinoma – This is the most common type of skin cancer, accounting for about 80% of all skin cancer cases. It usually appears as a small, shiny bump or a pink, raised patch on the skin. Basal cell carcinoma is generally slow-growing and rarely spreads to other parts of the body. However, it can cause damage to nearby tissues if left untreated.
- Squamous cell carcinoma – This is the second most common type of skin cancer, accounting for about 16% of all skin cancer cases. It often appears as a firm, red bump or a scaly patch on the skin. Squamous cell carcinoma is more likely to spread to other parts of the body than basal cell carcinoma, but it is still generally treatable if caught early.
Melanoma – This is the most dangerous type of skin cancer and can be deadly if not treated early. Melanoma can occur anywhere on the skin and often appears as a dark, irregularly shaped mole or a dark spot on the skin that changes in size, shape, or color. Melanoma is less common than basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma, but it is more likely to spread to other parts of the body.
It is necessary to protect your skin from the sun and to check your skin regularly for any changes or abnormalities. If you notice any suspicious moles or spots on your skin, you should consult a dermatologist.
Causes and Risk Factors
The main cause of skin cancer results from overexposure to sunlight leading to sunburn and blistering. There are several risk factors that can result in skin cancer including –
- Exposure to UV radiation: Overexposure to UV radiation from the sun or artificial sources like tanning beds is the leading cause of skin cancer.
- Fair skin: People with fair skin, blond or red hair, and blue or green eyes are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer.
- History of sunburns: A history of severe sunburns, particularly in childhood, increases the risk of developing skin cancer.
- Family history: Having a family member with skin cancer increases your risk of developing the disease.
- Age: The risk of developing skin cancer increases as you get older.
- Weak immune system: People with a weakened immune system due to illness, organ transplant, or medications are at an increased risk of skin cancer.
- Certain medical conditions: People with certain medical conditions such as xeroderma pigmentosum, albinism, and basal cell nevus syndrome are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer.
- Exposure to chemicals: Certain chemicals, such as arsenic, can increase the risk of developing skin cancer.
To prevent skin cancer from happening, it is necessary to protect your skin from excessive exposure to UV radiation by taking precautions such as – wearing protective clothing, using sunscreen, and avoiding tanning beds to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. Regular skin exams and self-examinations can also help detect skin cancer early when it is possible.
The most common warning sign of skin cancer is a change in skin color and texture. The signs and symptoms of skin cancer can vary depending on the type of skin cancer in an individual. Let’s dive deep into the signs and symptoms of different types of skin cancer such as –
1. Basal cell carcinoma – It usually occurs in sun-exposed areas of the skin such as the face or neck.
Basal cell carcinoma may appear as –
- A fresh-colored or brown scar-like session
- A bleeding or scabbing sore that heals and returns
- Brown-scar-like lesions.
2. Squamous cell carcinoma – It occurs in an area that is frequently exposed to the sun such as – the face, ears, and hands. It usually happens to people with darker skin in areas with high amounts of Ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
Squamous cell carcinoma may appear as –
- A firm, red nodule
- A flat scaly crusted surface
3. Melanoma – It can happen anywhere in your body. It can be usually witnessed on the face or around the trunk of affected men. In women, melanoma happens on the lower legs of the body.
The common signs and symptoms of Melanoma included are –
- A brownish spot with darker speckles
- A mole that changes in color or size
- A small lesion with irregular borders and portions that appear red or pink in color.
- A painful lesion that itches or burns
- Dark lesions on your palm, fingertips, toes, or mucous membrane lining the mouth
Other common types of skin cancer included are –
- Kaposi sarcoma – It develops in the blood vessels of the skin resulting in red or purple patches on the skin. It happens to people with weakened immune systems such as people suffering from AIDS, undergone organ transplantation, or medications for another disease causing a lowering of immunity.
- Merkel cell carcinoma – It occurs on or just beneath the skin, and in hair follicles. It is often found in the head, trunk, and neck.
- Sebaceous gland carcinoma – This is a rare type of skin cancer that usually appears on the eyelids but can occur in other areas as well. It often looks like a painless lump or bump.
- Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans – This is a slow-growing type of skin cancer that often appears on the trunk or limbs as a firm, flesh-colored or pink bump.
- Atypical fibroxanthoma – This is a type of skin cancer that usually appears on the head or neck as a firm, raised bump with a scaly surface.
- Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma – This is a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that affects the skin. It can appear as a rash, plaques, or tumors on the skin.
All skin changes or growths in the areas of the body often result from the presence of cancer cells. However, if you notice any changes in your skin, it is important to have them evaluated by a doctor or dermatologist to determine if they are cancerous or not. Early detection and treatment of skin cancer are key to successful treatment outcomes.
The diagnosis of skin cancer typically involves a combination of a physical examination and biopsy. Here are the steps involved in the diagnosis of skin cancer:
- Physical examination: During a physical examination, a dermatologist or healthcare provider will examine the skin and look for any suspicious growth or changes.
- Dermatoscopy: Dermatoscopy is a non-invasive imaging technique that can help dermatologists visualize the structure of a mole or lesion and determine if it is cancerous.
- Biopsy: If a suspicious growth or change is found, a biopsy will be performed. During a biopsy, a small sample of skin tissue is removed and sent to a laboratory for examination under a microscope. A biopsy can help determine if the growth is cancerous and what type of skin cancer it is.
It is necessary to have any suspicious growths or changes in the skin evaluated by a doctor or dermatologist as soon as possible. Early detection and treatment of skin cancer can improve treatment outcomes and reduce the risk of complications.
The treatment for skin cancer depends on the type, size, location, and stage of cancer. Here are some common treatments for skin cancer –
- Surgery – Surgery is the most common treatment for skin cancer. It involves removing the cancerous tissue along with a margin of healthy skin to ensure all of the cancer cells are removed. It contains two types of surgery for skin cancer treatmnets including –
- Excisional surgery – It involves removing of tumor aliong with surrounding healthy tissue so that there is no trace of cancer left.
- Mohs surgery – Mohs surgery is a specialized surgical technique that involves removing the cancerous tissue layer by layer and examining each layer under a microscope until no cancer cells are found.
- Curettage and electrodesiccation – In this technique a sharp loop edged instrument is used to remove cancer cells. Then the area is treated with electric needle to destroy remaining cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy – Radiation therapy involves using high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. It may be used as the primary treatment for small, early-stage skin cancers or as adjuvant therapy after surgery.
- Topical medications – Topical medications such as imiquimod and 5-fluorouracil can be used to treat certain types of skin cancer, including superficial basal cell carcinoma and actinic keratoses.
- Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy involves using drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be used to treat advanced skin cancer or when other treatments have not been successful.
- Immunotherapy – Immunotherapy involves using drugs to stimulate the body’s immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells. It may be used to treat advanced melanoma or other types of skin cancer.
- Photodynamic therapy – It is coated with medication and blue or red fluoroscent light that activates the medication.
The type of treatment recommended will depend on several factors, including the type and stage of cancer, the patient’s overall health, and the patient’s preferences. It is important to discuss treatment options with a healthcare provider or dermatologist to determine the best course of action for each individual case.
The outlook for skin cancer depends on several factors, including the type, stage, and location of the cancer, as well as the patient’s overall health and response to treatment.
Most cases of non-melanoma skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma) have a high cure rate when detected and treated early. In fact, the five-year survival rate for these types of skin cancer is over 95%.
Melanoma, on the other hand, is more aggressive and can be deadly if not detected and treated early. However, the five-year survival rate for people with early-stage melanoma is over 90%.
It is important to note that even after treatment, people who have had skin cancer are at increased risk of developing another skin cancer in the future. Therefore, it is important to practice sun safety measures, such as wearing protective clothing and sunscreen, and to have regular skin exams to detect any new or recurring skin cancers early.
Overall, the prognosis for skin cancer is generally good when detected and treated early. By taking steps to prevent skin cancer and seeking prompt medical attention for any suspicious growths or changes in the skin, many cases of skin cancer can be successfully treated.