Skin cancer is a type of cancer that develops when skin cells undergo abnormal growth and divide uncontrollably. It is caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, tanning beds, or other sources. There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the most common and least deadly types of skin cancer, while melanoma is less common but more deadly. Early detection and treatment are crucial in preventing the spread of skin cancer to other parts of the body. Here you know everything about skin cancer such as skin cancer types, causes of skin cancer, and skin cancer prevention.
Table of content
Types of Skin Cancer
Symptoms of Skin Cancer
Skin Cancer Causes
Skin Cancer Treatment
Prevention/How to Prevent Skin Cancer
Skin cancer types/types of skin cancer
There are three main types of skin cancer:
- Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) – This is the most common type of skin cancer, accounting for about 80% of all cases. BCC develops in the basal cells, which are located in the lower part of the epidermis (the outermost layer of skin). It usually appears as a small, pearly or waxy bump on the skin, often with visible blood vessels. BCC is usually slow-growing and rarely spreads to other parts of the body.
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) – SCC is the second most common type of skin cancer, accounting for about 16% of all cases. SCC develops in the squamous cells, which are located in the upper part of the epidermis. It usually appears as a scaly or crusty patch of skin that may bleed or form a sore. SCC can grow quickly and may spread to other parts of the body if left untreated.
- Melanoma – Melanoma is a less common but more dangerous type of skin cancer that develops in the melanocytes, which are the cells that produce pigment in the skin. It usually appears as a dark, irregularly shaped mole or spot on the skin, but can also be pink, red, or flesh coloured. Melanoma can grow quickly and spread to other parts of the body if left untreated.
Other types of skin cancer include Merkel cell carcinoma, which is a rare but aggressive type of skin cancer that develops in the Merkel cells (specialized cells in the skin that respond to touch), and cutaneous lymphoma, which is a rare type of skin cancer that develops in the white blood cells.
Skin Cancer Symptoms
Skin cancer can appear in many different forms, but there are some common signs and symptoms to watch out for. Here are some common symptoms of skin cancer:
- Changes in the skin’s appearance – This could include the development of new moles or growths, changes in the color or texture of existing moles or growths, or the appearance of rough or scaly patches on the skin.
- Irregular or asymmetrical shapes – Moles or growths that are irregularly shaped or asymmetrical, meaning one half doesn’t match the other, could be a sign of skin cancer.
- Changes in size – Any mole or growth that changes in size, especially if it grows larger over time, could be a cause for concern.
- Itching or bleeding – If a mole or growth starts to itch or bleed, it could be a sign of skin cancer.
- Ulceration – Ulceration or the development of an open sore on the skin that doesn’t heal could also be a sign of skin cancer.
It’s important to note that not all skin changes are a sign of cancer, but if you notice any of these symptoms or other changes in your skin, it’s important to have them evaluated by a dermatologist. Early detection is key in the successful treatment of skin cancer.
Skin Cancer Causes
The main cause of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds. UV radiation damages the DNA in skin cells, which can lead to the development of cancer.
UV radiation is a type of electromagnetic radiation that is emitted by the sun and can also be produced by artificial sources such as tanning beds. And it is classified into three types: UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVC is absorbed by the atmosphere and does not reach the earth’s surface. UVB radiation is the most harmful type of UV radiation, as it can cause sunburn and damage to the skin’s DNA. UVA radiation penetrates the skin more deeply than UVB radiation and can also cause damage to the skin’s DNA. Other risk factors for or causes of skin cancer include:
- Fair skin – People with fair skin have less melanin (the pigment that gives skin its colour) and are more susceptible to sun damage.
- History of sunburns – People who have had severe sunburns in the past are more susceptible to skin cancer.
- Family history of skin cancer – People who have a family history of skin cancer are more susceptible to developing the disease.
- Weakened immune system – People who have a weakened immune system are more susceptible to skin cancer. This includes people who take immunosuppressive drugs after an organ transplant, have a medical condition that weakens their immune system (such as HIV/AIDS), or have received radiation therapy in the past.
- Exposure to certain chemicals – Exposure to certain chemicals, such as arsenic, can increase the risk of skin cancer.
- Age – The risk of skin cancer increases with age, as skin cells become less able to repair themselves as we age.
Skin Cancer Treatment
The treatment for skin cancer depends on the type of skin cancer, its size and location, as well as the overall health of the patient. The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Treatment options for skin cancer may include:
- Surgery – The most common treatment for skin cancer is surgery, which involves removing the cancerous tissue and a surrounding margin of healthy tissue. Mohs surgery is a specialized technique that is used to remove skin cancer, particularly in areas where it is important to preserve as much healthy tissue as possible.
- Radiation therapy – Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. It is typically used for skin cancers that cannot be treated with surgery or for patients who are not good candidates for surgery.
- Topical medications – Topical medications such as imiquimod and fluorouracil may be used to treat certain types of skin cancer.
- Cryotherapy – Cryotherapy involves freezing the cancerous tissue with liquid nitrogen. It is typically used for small, early-stage skin cancers.
- Photodynamic therapy – Photodynamic therapy involves applying a photosensitizing agent to the skin and then exposing it to a special light that activates the agent and kills the cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy may be used for advanced cases of skin cancer, particularly for melanoma that has spread to other parts of the body.
In addition to these treatments, it is important to take steps to prevent skin cancer, such as avoiding prolonged exposure to the sun, wearing protective clothing and hats, and using sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Regular skin exams by a dermatologist can also help detect skin cancer early, when it is easier to treat.
Prevention/How to Prevent Skin Cancer
Preventing skin cancer is important because it is easier to prevent skin cancer than to treat it. Here are some ways to prevent skin cancer:
- Protect your skin from the sun – Avoiding exposure to the sun is the best way to prevent skin cancer. Stay indoors during peak sun hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and wear protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, and wide-brimmed hats. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and reapply it every two hours or after swimming or sweating.
- Avoid tanning beds – Tanning beds can increase your risk of skin cancer. Avoid using them and opt for self-tanning products instead.
- Check your skin regularly – Perform regular self-examinations of your skin to check for any changes, such as new or changing moles, lesions, or other growths. If you notice anything unusual, see a dermatologist.
- Know your risk factors – Factors such as a family history of skin cancer, a personal history of skin cancer, fair skin, and a weakened immune system increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Knowing your risk factors can help you take steps to prevent skin cancer.
- Protect children’s skin – Children’s skin is more sensitive than adults, so it is important to take extra precautions to protect their skin. Keep babies under 6 months out of direct sunlight and dress them in protective clothing. Apply sunscreen to children over 6 months of age and reapply it frequently.
- Protect your eyes – Exposure to the sun can also damage your eyes, so wear sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays.
Skin cancer is a serious disease that can be prevented by taking simple steps to protect your skin from the sun. These steps include avoiding sun exposure during peak hours, wearing protective clothing, using sunscreen, checking your skin regularly, and avoiding tanning beds. By following these guidelines, you can reduce your risk of developing skin cancer and protect your skin from sun damage.