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Diseases & Conditions

Skin Cancer

Skin CancerCausesPreventionSymptomsTreatmentTypes

What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is a very common form of cancer that affects the human body, with over a million new cases being diagnosed every year. Skin cancer is suspected when there is an alteration in skin appearance, when a skin sore does not heal or a new growth appears on the skin.

Causes of Skin Cancer

  • Skin cancers are overwhelmingly caused due to excessive exposure to UV light emanated by the Sun. Frequent unprotected exposure to direct sunlight can result in the development of skin cancer.
  • Use of artificial tanning booths
  • Immunity suppression, which refers to the impairment of the body’s immunity system which is responsible for protecting the body against foreign entities.
  • Skin cancer can also be caused as a result of the presence of other diseases in the body
  • Some medications prescribed to prevent organ transplant rejection or fight autoimmune diseases can cause skin cancer to appear in the patient.
  • Contact with some chemicals such as arsenic. Farmers, miners and sheep sheaers are susceptible to contract skin cancer this way. Hydrocarbons present in oils, tar and soot can cause SCC
  • Exposure to high levels of x Rays.

Who are at Risk?

People who have fair skin, especially those with freckles and who sub burn easily are more susceptible to get skin cancer.

  • People, who have specific genetic disorders which deplete pigmentation of the skin, like xeroderma pigmentosum and albinism.
  • Those people who have already suffered from skin cancer
  • People who have numerous, large or unusual moles that were presence since birth or have developed recently.
  • People with family members who have had skin cancer.
  • SCC and BCC are more prevalent among older people whereas melanoma is more common among young people.

Prevention of Skin Cancer

  • Reduce sun exposure and frequently apply sunscreen regularly. The cream should have an SPF of at least 30 and protect against UVA and UVB.
  • Wear adequately protective clothing when venturing out.
  • Conduct annual or periodic self examination.

Symptoms of Skin Cancer

In case of BCC, a smooth, raised, pearly bump on neck, shoulders or part of the head exposed to the sun may be observed. A few blood vessels may be seen in the tumor. The lesion may take on the form of a central depression which has crusted with frequent bleeding. An SCC appears as a well defined, reddish, scaling, thickened patch on skin which has been exposed to the sun. It may bleed and ulcerate. It can develop into a big mass if it is left untreated.

Malignant melanoma, the most dangerous, appears as brownish or blackish colored lesions. The warning signs for skin cancers include changes in the shape, size, elevation or color of a mole. A new mole has developed in adulthood accompanied by pain, ulceration; itching or bleeding should not be treated lightly and be reported to a doctor. Malignant melanoma can be identified by following ABCD – asymmetry, irregular border, color, and diameter (cancerous moles are generally 6mm or more in diameter).

Treatment for Skin Cancer

Usually, in the case of BCC and SCC, the cancerous lesion is surgically removed. Malignant melanoma can be more complicated and require several methods of treatment including surgery, therapy by radiation and chemotherapy.

Those who cannot undergo surgery can benefit from extreme radiation therapy during which a small radiation beam is used to target a skin lesion. This kills the cancerous cells in the lesion.

Surgery for Skin Cancer

There are a number of techniques to remove small lesion such as simple excision, curettage (where the tissue is burned using an electric needle), electrodesiccation and cryosurgery (using liquid nitrogen to freeze the area).

Large tumors, recurrent tumors, lesions in sensitive areas may be removed by Mohs micrographic surgery in which the tissues are removed layer by layer until a layer of cancer free tissue is reached.

In the case of malignant melanoma, 1-2 cm of normal skin is removed along with the tumor to prevent malignancy. Neighboring lymph nodes may also be removed in some cases.

Types of Skin Cancer

There are 3 primary types of skin cancers – basal cell carcinoma (BCC), melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). While they may be malignant, there is a less chance of them spreading to other body parts. They may cause skin disfiguring if they are not treated early.

Malignant melanoma, on the other hand, is an extremely aggressive and dangerous form of skin cancer that can spread to different parts of the body. It can even be fatal if timely treatment is not given.