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Skin Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Skin cancer is a condition in which skin cells experience abnormal growth. The areas of the skin that are most common to get cancer are areas that are most often exposed to sunlight. Find out a full explanation of the characteristics, causes, and how to treat it below.

Skin Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is a disease that arises due to abnormal cell growth in the skin area. This condition generally occurs when DNA mutations occur in skin cells and they become cancer cells.

Abnormal cells will multiply and grow out of control, and can even attack other areas of the body.

There are three types of skin cancer that are most often found, namely:

  • Basal cell carcinomaThis skin cancer starts from the basal cells of the epidermal layer (the outermost part of the skin).
  • Squamous cell carcinomaThis skin cancer starts from the outermost layer of the epidermis.
  • MelanomaThis skin cancer develops in the cells (melanocytes) that produce skin color, namely melanin.

Symptoms of Skin Cancer

The disease develops mainly on areas of skin exposed to the sun, including the scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms and legs.

While melanoma occurs in people with darker skin tones, it is more likely to occur in areas not normally exposed to the sun, such as the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

The following are characteristics of skin cancer based on its type, including:

1. Symptoms of Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma usually occurs on areas of your body that are exposed to the sun, such as your neck or face. Symptoms of this type are the appearance of pearl-like bumps, brown lesions, and scabs.

2. Symptoms of Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma most often occurs on areas of the body exposed to the sun, such as the face, ears and hands. People with darker skin are more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma in areas that don’t get a lot of sun exposure.

This type can be seen from the appearance of nodules or red bumps and lesions with a scaly surface.

3. Symptoms of Melanoma

Melanoma can develop anywhere on the body. In people with darker skin tones, melanoma tends to occur on the palms, soles, or under the fingernails and toenails.

The characteristics of this type of skin cancer include:

  • Large brown spot with darker spots.
  • Moles that change color, size or bleed.
  • Small lesions with irregular borders and patches that appear red, pink, white, blue or blue-black.
  • The lesions are painful with an itchy or burning sensation.
  • Dark lesions on the palms, soles, tips of the fingers or toes, or on the mucous membranes lining the mouth, nose, vagina and anus.

When is the Right Time to See a Doctor?

Immediately go to the doctor if you see any changes in the skin that worry you. Not all skin changes are caused by skin cancer. The doctor will investigate skin changes to determine the cause.

Also Read: 5 Types of Cancer That Makes You Constantly Nosebleed

Causes of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer occurs when there are mutations in the DNA of skin cells. This mutation will cause skin cells to grow uncontrollably and form a mass of cancer cells.

The exact cause of skin cancer is still not known with certainty. However, there are several factors that can make a person more at risk of developing skin cancer.

Ultraviolet light exposure is known to be a significant risk factor for various types of cancer. You can be exposed to ultraviolet rays from the sun or UV lamps. This ultraviolet light can damage the skin which eventually cells grow excessively.

Apart from ultraviolet rays, there are several factors that increase the risk of the condition, including:

1. White skin

Basically everyone is at risk, regardless of skin color. However, having less pigment (melanin) in the skin provides less protection from damaging UV radiation.

If your skin burns easily, then you are more likely to develop skin cancer than people with darker skin.

2. History of Sunburned Skin

Having one or more sunburn blisters as a child or teenager increases your risk of developing this cancer as an adult. Even so, sunburned skin in adulthood is also a risk factor for skin cancer.

3. Tanning

One method that can be done to have dark skin is by tanning. However, tanning increased risk of skin cancer. Tanning itself can be done indoors or outdoors. Indoor tanning can be done in a place that has special equipment, while outdoor tanning is sunbathing.

4. Climatic Conditions

The risk is higher for people who live in sunny climates and are exposed to more sunlight than people who live in cooler climates.

In addition, living at higher altitudes, where the sunlight is strongest, also exposes you to more solar radiation.

5. Mole

People who have multiple moles or abnormal moles called dysplastic nevi are at increased risk. These abnormal moles look irregular and are generally larger than normal moles. If you have a history of abnormal moles, keep a close eye on any changes that occur.

6. Precancerous skin lesions

Have skin lesions known as actinic keratosis can increase the risk. These precancerous skin growths usually appear as rough, scaly patches that can vary in color from brown to dark pink.

This condition is most common on the face, head and hands of fair-skinned people whose skin has been damaged by the sun.

7. Have History

If there is a family history of skin cancer, whether it’s a parent or sibling, you may have a higher risk.

Apart from history in the family, this disease can also attack you again if you yourself have a history of this disease.

8. Weak Immune System

People with weakened immune systems have a greater risk of developing this disease. These conditions include people living with HIV/AIDS and who are taking immune-suppressing drugs after organ transplants.

9. Exposure to Radiation and Certain Substances

People receiving radiation treatment for skin conditions such as eczema and acne may be at increased risk, particularly of basal cell carcinoma. Meanwhile, exposure to certain substances such as arsenic can increase the risk of skin cancer.

Also Read: Get to know BHA and its various benefits for the skin

Skin Cancer Diagnosis

When diagnosing this condition, the doctor may:

The doctor can look at the skin to determine if the skin changes may be cancer. Further tests may be needed to confirm that diagnosis.

A biopsy can determine whether you have cancer and what type of cancer you have. This procedure may also be performed on the lymph nodes closest to the location of the cancer to find out its spread.

Your doctor may order additional tests to determine the extent (stage) of your skin cancer. Doctors can perform other examinations such as MRI and CT scans to see the spread of cancer cells.

Skin Cancer Stage

The following is an explanation of the stages of skin cancer, judging by the size of the tumor and how far it has spread:

Stage 0

This condition indicates that the cancer cells are still in the same place and have not spread beyond the epidermis.

Stage I

This condition indicates that cancer cells have spread to the layers of the skin under the epidermis with a size of no more than 2 cm.

Stage II

This condition indicates that the cancer has not spread to other tissues, but is growing in size to more than 2 cm.

Stage III

This condition indicates that the cancer has spread to surrounding tissues and is more than 3 cm in size.

Stage IV

This condition has spread to other tissues that are far from the place of origin of the cancer and has a size of more than 3 cm.

Also Read: Benefits of Hyaluronic Acid for Skin and Health

Skin Cancer Treatment

Treatment options vary depending on size, type, depth and location. Some of the treatments that can be done, including:

Doctors can destroy cancer cells by freezing them. This method is done with the help of liquid nitrogen (cryosurgery). The dead tissue will peel off as it thaws.

The doctor will cut the cancerous tissue and healthy skin around it. In some cases, wide excision may be recommended to remove the normal skin around the tumor.

This procedure is done for larger, recurring or difficult-to-treat skin cancers, such as basal and squamous cell carcinoma. During Mohs surgery, the doctor will remove the skin growth layer by layer, examining each layer under a microscope, until no abnormal cells remain.

This procedure allows cancer cells to be removed without taking up excessive amounts of the surrounding healthy skin.

The doctor can remove layers of cancer cells using a circular knife (curette). In a variation of this procedure, liquid nitrogen can be used to freeze the base and edges of the treated area.

This simple and fast procedure can be used to treat basal cell cancer or thin squamous cell cancer.

Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams such as X-rays to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy may be an option when the cancer cannot be completely removed during surgery.

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. But treatment is only limited to the top layer of skin using creams or lotions that contain anti-cancer agents

Systemic chemotherapy may be used to treat cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.

This treatment destroys cancer cells with a combination of laser light and drugs that make cancer cells sensitive to light.

Biological therapy uses the body’s immune system to kill cancer cells.

Also Read: Getting to Know Kaolin Clay and its Benefits for Facial Skin

Skin Cancer Complications

Every sufferer has potential complications, including cancer reappearing, cancer cells spreading to surrounding tissues, and cancer cells spreading to other organs of the body.

If you have skin cancer, then the risk of having cancer cells in other locations will be higher.

This condition can also directly affect appearance, especially if cancer cells appear in areas that are not covered by clothing.

Skin Cancer Prevention

This disease can be prevented by avoiding the triggers that cause tumors to develop. Prevention strategies include protecting from the sun by wearing protective clothing, and avoiding sun exposure from 9am to 3pm.

Other steps to reduce risk include:

  • Apply sunscreen as often as possible. Use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 before and during sun exposure. Choose products that block UVA and UVB rays.
  • If your activity requires long exposure to the sun, wear long sleeves and a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Do regular skin checks to the doctor. Self-examination increases your chances of finding this cancer early.
  1. Anonymous. 2020. Skin cancer (non-melanoma). (Retrieved 9 February 2023).
  2. Anonymous. 2019. Skin cancer. (Retrieved 9 February 2023).
  3. Feintuch, Stacey and Stephanie A. Wright. 2022. What Is Skin Cancer? (Accessed 9 February 2023).
  4. Lehrer, Michael S, MD. 2019. Skin Cancer. (Retrieved 9 February 2023).

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