Patient's Complete Guide to Skin Cancer
Overview of Skin Cancer
Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cells. It can be malignant or benign. Cancer can affect any organ of the body and progress without making its presence known.
Skin cancer is the rapid, abnormal growth of skin cells. As the name indicates, it affects the skin, mostly the areas exposed to the sun. Most skin cancers form in the superficial layer of the skin, the epidermis.
Skin cancers rarely metastasize and become life-threatening.
Prevalence of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is the fourth most occurring cancer in Northern Pakistan. It is the second leading cause of cancer in males and females respectively.
Signs and Symptoms of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer usually develops in the areas most exposed to the skin. This includes the scalp, face, neck, lips, ears, hands, arms, chest, and legs. It can also develop in the genital area as well as the fingernails and toenails. Signs and symptoms include:
- A pearly bump
- Scar like lesion
- Bleeding or scabbing sore that heals and returns
- A lesion with scales or crusted surface
- A mole that changes colour or bleeds
- Painful lesions
- Dark lesions in multiple areas
Types of Skin Cancer
The following are the types of skin cancer depending on location:
Basal Cell CarcinomaThis type of cancer begins in the basal cells. Basal cells produce new skin cells when the old ones die. This cancer mostly occurs in the area exposed to the sun such as the head and neck. It sometimes appears as a slightly transparent bump.
MelanomaIt is the most serious type of skin cancer. It develops in melanin, which gives the skin its colour. People with light skin colour are usually more prone to getting melanoma than darker skin people.
Squamous Cell CarcinomaThis type of cancer develops in the squamous cells. Squamous cells make up the middle and outer layers of the skin. It is usually not life-threatening but can be quite aggressive. If left untreated, it can easily metastasize.
Causes of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer begins in the epidermal layer as it is the most exposed to the sun. Cancer can occur at any epidermal layer. Some of the causes of skin cancer include:
- UV light
- Excessive sun exposure
- History of sunburns
- Less melanin in the skin
- Warmer climate
- Family history
- Radiation exposure
- Weak immune system
- Previous personal history of skin cancer
- Exposure to substances such as arsenic
- Precancerous skin lesions
Risk Factors of Skin Cancer
Following are the risk factors of skin cancers:
- People who have a lighter skin colour
- People who have blond or red hair
- A large number of moles
- Family history of skin cancer
- Personal history of cancer
- People who have coloured eyes
- Sensitive skin
- Exposure to radiation
- Outdoor activity
Complications of Skin Cancer
Given below are some complications of skin cancer:
- Potential recurrence; where cancer can come back
- Metastasis; the spread of cancer to any other region of the body
- Local recurrence; cancer can spread to other areas
Given below are some of the best preventive measures to reduces the chances of skin cancer:
Look For the Shade
Make sure to stay in shady or protected areas especially from 10 am to 4 pm.
Take good care of your screen and avoid prolonged sunlight exposures.
Do not get Tan
The use of certain chemicals for the purpose of tanning can increase the chances of skin cancer.
Cover Your Skin
Use appropriate clothing and make sure to cover all the areas. It also extends to the use of the right sunglasses.
Use Appropriate Sunscreen
Remember to use sunscreen before going out in the sun. you should try to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen for this purpose.
Examine Yourself Daily
Ensure that you are examining yourself on a daily basis. Look for any rashes or skin abnormalities.
Seek A Dermatologist
In case of any query make sure to seek a dermatologist.
For a complete diagnosis, the doctor will examine the skin for any changes. A skin biopsy is done to further confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment of Skin Cancer | When to Consult a Doctor
The type of treatment depends on the area of growth and the type of cancer. Once skin cancer is confirmed, further testing is done to determine the stage of cancer.
For basal cell carcinoma a biopsy can tell the stage of cancer while for other types, further testing is required.
Treatment options are as follows:
If precancerous lesions are found, and at an early stage, they can be frozen by liquid nitrogen. This method is also known as cryosurgery.
The cancerous tissue and surrounding healthy skin are excised. This type of treatment can be done for every type of skin cancer.
Electrodesiccation or Curettage
A curette is used to scrape away the layers of cancerous cells. An electric needle destroys the rest of the cancer cells. Also, liquid nitrogen is used to freeze the base and edges of the area being treated.
High radiation beams are directed at the cancer cells. This therapy is used at a later stage of cancer and when surgery is not possible.
Drugs are administered to kill cancer cells. It is the most painful treatment with aftereffects.
Laser light and drugs are administered in combination to destroy and kill cancer cells.
This uses your immune system to kill cancer cells.
Skin cancer can be often ignored as another mole or unusual growth on the skin. If you find any suspicious bump or lesion on the body, you need to consult a doctor immediately.