What Is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is a common type of cancer that happens when there are abnormal growths of skin cells. The specific type of skin cancer is determined by identifying the characteristics of these cells. To have a better understanding of skin cancer, it is important to learn about the different types of skin cancer and how they affect the body.
Types of skin cancer
Basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer that originates in the basal cells, which are responsible for replacing old cells in the lower layer of the skin.
This type of skin cancer usually appears on the surface of the skin and it is not very likely to spread to other parts of the body, but in a few cases it could be life-threatening.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) states that around 80% of all skin cancer cases are basal cell cancer.
Squamous cell cancer.
Squamous cell cancer is a type of cancer that affects the cells on the topmost layer of the epidermis.
Squamous cells can also be found in other areas of the body such as the lungs and mucous membranes. When it occurs in the skin, it is known as cutaneous squamous cell cancer.
This type of cancer is commonly found on body parts that are frequently exposed to ultraviolet (UV) sunlight, and it can be treated but if left untreated it could be life-threatening.
The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that it is the second most common type of skin cancer and according to the American Cancer Society (ACS) approximately 5.4 million basal and squamous cell cancers are diagnosed each year, mostly on body parts that are more exposed to sun such as the head and neck.
Melanoma is another type of skin cancer that makes up around 1% of all skin cancer cases.
It develops from the cells responsible for giving skin its color, which are called melanocytes.
Although melanocytes can form noncancerous moles, they can also turn cancerous. Melanomas can appear anywhere on the body, but are more frequent on the chest and back for men and legs for women.
Early detection increases the chances of successful treatment, but if left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the body, making it more difficult to treat. In addition, melanoma tends to spread more than basal and squamous cell skin cancer.
Merkel cell skin cancer.
Merkel cell skin cancer is a type of skin cancer that is not very common, and it is caused by the overproduction of Merkel cells.
Merkel cells are special cells that are located in the epidermis, according to a review from 2019. Based on a 2021 review, it is estimated that there are around 1,500 cases of Merkel cell cancer reported annually in the United States.
It tends to happen more in men than women, and more frequently in white people. Even though it is uncommon, it is very aggressive and it can spread to other parts of the body rapidly.
Lymphoma of the skin.
Skin Lymphoma or Cutaneous Lymphoma is a type of cancer that happens when the white blood cells called lymphocytes grow irregularly on the skin.
Kaposi Sarcoma is a type of cancer that appears as red, brown or purple patches or tumors on the skin, it is usually referred to as “lesions”.
The lesions mostly occur on the legs, feet or face, and sometimes in the genital area, mouth or lymph nodes.
They may not cause any symptoms when they remain on the surface of the skin, but when they spread inside the body, they can cause severe bleeding and become life-threatening.
Actin Keratosis are non-cancerous, small patches of red, pink or brown skin, but they are considered a form of precancer. If left untreated, they may develop into squamous cell carcinoma.
Skin Cancer Symptoms
Symptoms of skin cancer can vary and may not be noticeable at first. However, any unusual changes to the skin should be taken as a warning sign for different types of skin cancer. Being aware of changes in your skin can help with early diagnosis.
Keep an eye out for the following signs of skin cancer:
- New moles, unusual growths, bumps, sores, scaly patches, or dark spots that don’t disappear
- Asymmetry in the shape of a lesion or mole
- Ragged or uneven edges on the border of a lesion
- Unusual color, such as white, pink, black, blue or red, or multiple colors within a lesion
- A size larger than 1/4 inch or about the size of a pencil eraser
- Changes in the mole such as size, shape, color, or symptoms like itching, pain or bleeding It’s important to be aware of all the possible warning signs if you suspect that you may have skin cancer on your skin.
Pictures Of Skin Cancer.
Skin Cancer Causes and risk factors.
Skin cancer is caused by mutations in the DNA of skin cells, which causes them to grow in an uncontrolled way and form cancerous cells.
The causes of skin cancer are not well understood, and it is unclear why some moles turn into melanomas while others do not. However, certain risk factors may make you more likely to develop skin cancer, particularly melanoma.
UV light exposure
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that exposure to UV light is a major risk factor for many types of skin cancer. The sources of UV light exposure include the sun, tanning beds, and sun lamps. UV rays can harm skin cells, and when they cause an overgrowth of cells, skin cancer may develop.
Although not all moles are indicative of skin cancer, having many of them can increase the likelihood of developing melanoma.
Light skin, light or blonde hair, and freckling
Individuals with lighter skin are at a higher risk for skin cancer, especially those with naturally red or blonde hair, blue or green eyes, and light skin that easily burns or freckles in the sun.
Skin Cancer Family history
Having a relative who has been diagnosed with melanoma, according to Cancer Research UK, increases your risk of developing the disease.
A research from 2015 suggests that this could be due to factors such as similar sun exposure habits, light skin, or hereditary genetic mutations. If you do have a family history of skin cancer, it is recommended that you:
- Do a monthly self-examination of your skin
- Visit a dermatologist frequently for skin examination
- Consistently use sunscreen and other sun protection methods
- Steer clear of artificial tanning devices such as tanning beds and sun lamps.
Skin Cancer History.
Having a history of skin cancer increases the likelihood of developing the disease again in the future.
A 2018 study of 969 individuals with skin cancer found that 17% of them went on to experience another occurrence of the disease, particularly if they were older adults.
This statistic highlights the significance of frequent follow-up appointments with your physician to closely monitor for any recurrence.
It’s also worth noting that if you have had skin cancer before, you may be at risk for a different type of skin cancer. For instance, a person who has had squamous cell skin cancer is more likely to develop melanoma in the future.
Weakened immune system.
Having an impaired immune system increases the likelihood of developing skin cancer. This can occur as a result of other health conditions or treatments, such as chemotherapy, taking certain medications, or having an autoimmune disease that affects the immune system.
The incidence of skin cancer increases with age, although it can occur at any age. It is most prevalent in individuals over 30 years old.
Skin Cancer Treatments.
Treatment for skin cancer is determined by various factors, such as the size, location, type, and stage of the cancer. After evaluating these factors, your healthcare team may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:
- Cryosurgery, in which liquid nitrogen is used to freeze and destroy the cancerous tissue
- Excisional surgery, in which the cancerous growth and some of the surrounding healthy tissue is cut out
- Mohs surgery, in which the growth is removed in layers and each layer is examined under a microscope until no abnormal cells are visible
- Curettage and electrodesiccation, in which a spoon-shaped blade is used to scrape away the cancer cells, and the remaining cells are burned using an electric needle
- Chemotherapy, which can be taken orally, applied topically, or administered via needle or intravenous line to kill cancer cells
- Photodynamic therapy, which uses laser light and drugs to destroy cancer cells
- Radiation therapy, which utilizes intense energy beams to eradicate cancer cells.
- Biological therapy, which uses biological treatments to stimulate the immune system to fight cancer cells
- Immunotherapy, which uses medications to stimulate the immune system to kill cancer cells.
Skin cancer stages.
Skin cancer is classified into four main stages, based on how deep the cancer has grown into the skin and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. The stages of skin cancer are:
- Stage 0 (Carcinoma in situ): The cancer is confined to the top layer of the skin and has not invaded deeper layers.
- Stage I: The cancer has grown deeper into the skin but has not spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body.
- Stage II: The cancer has grown deeper into the skin and may have spread to nearby lymph nodes, but not to other parts of the body.
- Stage III: The cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes and may have grown deeper into the skin, but has not spread to other parts of the body.
- Stage IV: The cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the bones, lungs, or liver.
It’s important to note that different types of skin cancer, such as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma, may have different staging systems. It’s also important to note that the stage of a cancer can provide important information about the prognosis and treatment options, but it is not the only factor to consider. A thorough examination, biopsy, and other diagnostic tests are necessary to determine the type and stage of a cancer.
Skin Cancer Prevention.
There are several ways to prevent skin cancer:
- Protect your skin from the sun: The most important thing you can do to prevent skin cancer is to protect your skin from the sun. Wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, and wide-brimmed hats, and use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.
- Avoid tanning beds: Tanning beds emit UV rays that can cause skin damage and increase the risk of skin cancer.
- Check your skin regularly: Examine your skin regularly for any new or changing moles, spots, or growths. If you notice any changes, consult a dermatologist.
- Avoid sun exposure during peak hours: Try to avoid direct sun exposure during the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
- Educate yourself and your family: Educate yourself and your family about the risks of skin cancer and the importance of sun protection.
- Eat a healthy diet: Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, particularly those high in antioxidants, may help reduce the risk of skin cancer.
- Don’t smoke: Smoking is associated with an increased risk of skin cancer, particularly squamous cell carcinoma.
It’s important to note that no single prevention method is foolproof and the best approach is to use a combination of methods. Remember to consult your doctor if you have any concerns about your skin or if you notice any changes, they can help determine if you have skin cancer and guide you through the appropriate treatment options.