In this article, you’ll get everything you need to know about Skin Cancer.
Skin cancer is a common form of cancer that most often appears in the areas of your body exposed to the sun. However, you might develop it in other parts of your body too. The three most prevalent types are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Generally, limiting your exposure to the sun or taking precautions can lower your risk of developing skin cancer. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is responsible for the malignant transformation of healthy skin cells. Detecting early skin cancer leads to a better outcome of the disease. This article will focus on the main aspects of skin cancer, such as its prevalence, risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.
How common is skin cancer?
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the US. An estimated one out of five people will develop the disease once in their lifetime. Also, about 9,500 adults present with skin cancer every year in the US. In general, non-melanoma skin cancer affects about 3 million adults annually, while currently, 1 million people live with melanoma. Skin cancer is highly curable if diagnosed early, with a five-year survival rate of 99%.
Risk factors of skin cancer
Risk factors may increase your risk of developing a particular disease. Having many risk factors does not necessarily mean you will have skin cancer. Similarly, not having many does not mean you won’t develop the disease. The following are some of the most well-established risk factors for skin cancer:
- Having fair skin. Having less pigmented skin increases your chances of developing skin cancer. The reason why is less melanin, which protects you from UV radiation.
- Repetitive sunburns. If you had repetitive sunburns in your childhood, adolescence or adulthood might raise your chance of presenting with skin cancer later in life.
- Excessive sun exposure. Excessive exposure to the sun considerably increases your chance of developing skin cancer. The risk becomes even greater if you don’t use protection against UV radiation.
- Strong sunlight. Living in sunny places or high altitudes where sunlight is stronger might increase your chance of developing skin cancer.
- Skin lesions or moles. Having moles or precancerous lesions such as actinic keratoses puts you at high risk for skin cancer.
- History of skin cancer. Having a family or a personal history of skin cancer increases the likelihood of presenting with the disease.
- Incompetent immune system. Research suggests that having a weak immune system such as HIV-positive people raises your chances of having skin cancer.
- Radiation exposure. Exposure to radiation or other substances, such as arsenic, considerably increases your risk for skin cancer.
Symptoms and signs of skin cancer
Skin cancer mostly develops in sun-exposed areas of the body and all skin tones. Therefore, it might most probably appear in the scalp, ears, face, neck, ears, chest, arms and hands, and legs. However, skin cancer can develop in other parts of the body, too, such as the palms or genital area, which are not usually sun-exposed. The following are the most common symptoms and signs of skin cancer, according to its type.
Basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma usually develops in the neck or face, meaning in sun-exposed areas of your body. It would appear as a flat lesion that has the color of your skin or is slightly brownish and looks like a scar. Other times it might resemble a pearly or waxy bump or a sore that bleeds, heals, and recurs again and again.
Squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma often appears in the face, ears, and hands, meaning in sun-exposed areas of your body. Individuals with darker skin tones might develop it in other parts of the body too. It might look like a flat lesion with a scaly crust or a firm, red nodule.
Melanoma can appear anywhere in the body. It might originate from healthy skin or an already existing lesion or a mole. Women most often develop it on the legs while men on the face or trunk. Generally, it might appear in non-sun-exposed areas of the body too. Interestingly, in people with darker skin, the disease might appear in the palms, soles, or under the fingernails.
Melanoma might present as a dark spot that might look like a mole and has a speckle pattern. When melanoma manifests in an already existing mole, it might change its size, color, or texture. It might also bleed. Melanoma could also appear as a spot with irregular borders. Its color may vary from pink or red to white or bluish. Another presentation could be a lesion that produces discomfort or itchiness. In general, melanoma could appear as new dark lesions in any parts of your body, including the mucous membranes.
How do you make the diagnosis of skin cancer?
The diagnosis of skin cancer includes two steps:
- Inspection of the lesion. Your doctor will first examine your skin and assess whether your lesion could be cancerous.
- Biopsy. Taking some tissue for further examination is necessary to confirm the diagnosis under the microscope. A biopsy will reveal what type of skin cancer you have.
- Imaging tests. These tests will help the doctor know the extent of the tumor and whether you have metastasis or not.
Treatment of skin cancer
After diagnosing and classifying your skin cancer, your doctor might propose the best therapeutic approach for you. You might need one or a combination of methods to treat your skin cancer. Some superficial cancers are entirely removable during the biopsy. However, according to the type of cancer and its extent, you might need further techniques, such as:
- Excisional surgery
- Mohs surgery
- Curettage and electrodesiccation or cryotherapy
- Photodynamic therapy
- Radiation therapy
- Biological therapy
Keep in mind that early diagnosis means early intervention and a very favorable prognosis. If you notice any changes in your skin, including newly formed moles or spots that do not look as they usually do, consult your doctor for further investigations.