Skin cancer is a common and locally destructive cancerous growth of skin. It is created from the cells that line up along the skin that separates the superficial layer from the deeper layers.
The risk factors for cancer:
- Ultraviolet sun exposure, either from sun or from tanning beds
- A chronically suppressed immune system from diseases such as HIV/AIDS or cancer, or from medication such as prednisone or chemotherapy
- Exposure to ionizing radiation such as X-rays
- People who have a history of one skin cancer have a 20% chance of developing a second skin cancer in the next two years.
- Elderly patients have more skin cancers.
There are three major types of skin cancer:
- Basal cell carcinoma (most common)
Frequently develop in people who have fair skin, yet they can occur in people with darker skin. It looks like a flesh-colored, pearl-like bump or a pinkish patch of skin. It may develop after years of frequent sun exposure or indoor tanning. BCC is common on the head, neck, and arms, yet can form anywhere on the body, including the chest, abdomen, and legs. Early diagnosis and treatment is important. It can invade the surrounding tissue and grow into the nerves and bones, causing damage and disfigurement.
- Squamous cell carcinoma (second most common)
People who have light skin are most likely to develop SCC, yet they can develop in darker-skinned people. It often looks like a red firm bump, scaly patch, or a sore that heals and then re-opens. It tends to form on skin that gets frequent sun exposure, such as the rim of the ear, face, neck, arms, chest, and back. It can grow deep in the skin and cause damage and disfigurement. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent this and stop SCC from spreading to other areas of the body.
- Melanoma (less common, but most dangerous)
Melanoma frequently develops in a mole or suddenly appears as a new dark spot on the skin. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial.
Causes of skin cancer
As the basal cell skin cancers arise from DNA mutations in the basaloid cells in the upper layer of the skin. Many of these early cancers seem to be controlled by natural immune surveillance, which when compromised may permit the development of masses of malignant cells that begin to grow into tumors.
In squamous skin cancers, the tumors arise from normal squamous cells in the higher layers of the skin of epidermis. As with basal skin cancers, these cells are prevented from growing wildly by natural mutational repair mechanisms. When there is an alteration in these genes or the immune surveillance system that controls it, these skin cancers start to grow. In most instances, the genes are altered by ultraviolet exposure.
Signs and symptoms of skin cancer
Most basal cell carcinomas have few if any symptoms. Squamous cell carcinomas may be painful. Both forms of skin cancer may appear as a sore that bleeds, oozes, crusts, or otherwise will not heal. They begin as a slowly growing bump on the skin that may bleed after minor trauma. Both kinds of skin cancers may have raised edges and a central ulceration.
Signs and symptoms of basal cell carcinomas include:
- Appearance of a shiny pink, red, pearly, or translucent bump
- Pink skin growths or lesions with raised borders that are crusted in the center
- Raised reddish patch of skin that may crust or itch, but is usually not painful
Is it possible to prevent skin cancer?
Many skin cancers can be prevented by avoiding triggers that cause tumors to develop. Prevention strategies include protection from the sun by the use of sunscreens, protective clothing, and avoidance of the sun during the peak hours of 9 AM to 3 PM. Parents should ensure children are protected from the sun. Do not use tanning beds, which are a major cause of excess ultraviolet light exposure and a significant risk factor for skin cancer. In recent years, there has been rise in the numbers and cost of skin cancer. Furthermore, there has been an increase in the total number of skin cancers and that new breakthrough treatments for melanoma, although expensive, comprise only a small portion of the total cost of skin cancer treatment. Most skin cancers are treated cost efficiently by dermatologists.