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Skin Cancer: Types, causes, symptoms, prevention & treatment

Team AckoSept 13, 2022

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that roughly four million Skin Cancer cases are detected worldwide every year. Notably, the symptoms associated with this disease might be subtle and challenging to detect, resulting in a delayed diagnosis. Thus, it would be best if you were equipped with essential information about this disease so you can seek medical advice in time if necessary. In this article, we have highlighted various aspects of Skin Cancer and its types, causes, symptoms, and prevention and treatment measures. Read on to know more.

Skin Cancer

What is Skin Cancer?

Skin Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of irregular cells in the outermost skin layer. It can be caused by damaged DNA cells that the body was unable to repair. They mutate and grow at a fast rate which the body cannot heal in time. This results in rough, patchy skin, moles, wounds, etc. that can lead to cancer.

Types of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is classified into three types—Basal Cell Carcinoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma, and Melanoma.

  1. Basal Cell Carcinoma: Basal Cell Carcinoma is commonly seen as a slightly translucent lump on the skin, although it can also take different forms. Basal Cell Carcinoma is most common on sun-exposed parts of the skin, such as the head and neck. It begins as a change in the skin, such as a growth or an unhealed sore.

  2. Squamous Cell Carcinoma: This type of Skin Cancer is rarely fatal, but it can spread quickly. If left untreated, it can become large and spread to other parts of your body, causing major issues. If you have a wound that hasn't healed in two months or scaly skin that won't appear to improve, make an appointment with your doctor.

  3. Melanomas: Although the specific cause of all Melanomas is unknown, exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation raises your risk of Melanoma. Limiting your exposure to UV light may help lower your risk of developing this type of Skin Cancer. Melanomas can also develop in locations that are rarely exposed to sunlight, such as the soles of your feet, palms of your hands, and fingernail beds. 

Signs and symptoms of Skin Cancer

Here are some signs and symptoms of Skin Cancer.

  • New or unusual skin mark or blemish that does not fade.

  • Hard lesions that grow in size in a matter of weeks.

  • Mole that grows, changes shape, or changes colour.

  • Mole that has redness or swelling beyond its boundaries.

  • Itching or pain in a specific area of your skin that lasts for a long time.

  • Mole with uneven borders.

  • Lesion that bleeds on its own.

  • Wounds that ooze, bleed, turn scaly or crusty, or do not heal.

What causes Skin Cancer?

The following factors can cause Skin Cancer.

  • Weak immune system: People with a weaker immune system or who take drugs that decrease immunological function are more likely to acquire Skin Cancer, including Melanoma.

  • Sunlight exposure: The sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation significantly influences the development of Skin Cancer. People who live at high elevations or in places with direct sunshine all year are more likely to acquire Skin Cancer. People who spend much time outside during the day are also more vulnerable. To lower the risk of Skin Cancer, avoid recreational sun tanning.

  • Ethnicity or race: Melanoma rates in Caucasian individuals are almost 20 times greater than in dark-skinned people. Melanoma can, however, affect people of any race or ethnicity.

  • Family history: About 10% of Melanoma patients have a family history of the disease. If a person has a close relative (father, brother, sister, or kid) with Melanoma, that person's risk of having it is 2 to 3 times higher than usual. The risk increases if numerous family members in different areas have been diagnosed with Melanoma. As a result, it is recommended that close relatives of a person with Melanoma have their skin evaluated regularly.

  • Moles: People with multiple moles (termed dysplastic nevi or atypical moles) are more likely to acquire Melanoma. Dysplastic nevi are big, coloured and irregularly shaped moles. A doctor may advise regular skin imaging to closely monitor the skin of persons with multiple moles.

  • Skin cancer in the past: People who have already suffered from this type of cancer are more likely to get new Melanomas. People who have experienced Basal or Squamous cell Skin Cancer are more likely to acquire Melanoma. As a result, persons with previous Skin Cancer encounters require regular follow-ups to monitor for new tumours. 

Different stages of Skin Cancer

Skin Cancer can progress to the following five stages.

Skin Cancer Stage 0

Skin Cancer denotes the presence of cancer cells. In this stage, the cells are still in the location where they begin to develop. So the cells have started to transform into cancer but have not yet disseminated or grown into neighbouring skin areas.

Skin Cancer Stage 1

The cancer is 2 cm or smaller in size.

Skin Cancer Stage 2 

The cancer is greater than 2 cm across but less than 4 cm wide.

Skin Cancer Stage 3

It could suggest that the skin cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes, but it may also mean one of the following.

  • The cancer is larger than 4 cm in diameter.

  • Cancer has grown into neighbouring bones, causing minor damage

  • Cancer has spread into the area around a nerve (perineural invasion) 

  • Cancer has spread beneath the fat layer underneath the skin (subcutaneous tissue)

Skin Cancer Stage 4

The following may be valid for Skin Cancer stage 4.

  • It has penetrated the outer covering of one of the lymph nodes.

  • It has affected multiple lymph nodes.

  • It has only expanded to one small lymph node.

  • It has spread to lymph nodes on the opposite side of your body.

How to diagnose Skin Cancer

The following are the two ways to diagnose Skin Cancer. 

  1. Biopsy - In many circumstances, your doctor will surgically remove the entire tumour. Your physician will sedate the spot before taking a tissue sample during this operation. There are several biopsy techniques, but an excisional biopsy, in which the doctor extracts the entire tumour, is frequently adequate to treat Skin Cancer.

  2. Imaging - Most skin malignancies, for example, Basal Cell Carcinoma, rarely spread to distant organs. In such circumstances, any one of medical imaging procedures may be utilised to evaluate whether cancer cells have spread to internal organs and bones. Imaging techniques like MRI, CT-Scan, and X-Rays are most commonly used.

Treatments for Skin Cancer

The stage of cancer determines its treatment. The stages of Skin Cancer can begin from 0 to IV (the greater the number, the greater the spread of cancer).

If the cancer is small and limited to the surface of your skin, a biopsy can sometimes remove all of the malignant tissue. Here are the other types of treatment that your doctor may suggest.

  1. Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Anticancer drugs can be applied directly to the skin (topical chemotherapy) if the cancer is limited to the top layer of your skin or taken orally or intravenously if the cancer has spread to other regions of your body.

  2. Cryotherapy: Liquid nitrogen is used in cryotherapy to freeze Skin Cancer. After therapy, the dead cells slough off. Doctors can use this approach to treat precancerous skin lesions known as Actinic Keratosis and other minor issues found in the skin's top layer.

  3. Mohs Micrographic Surgery: The tumour's visible, swollen region is initially removed in this treatment. The surgeon will then remove a small layer of Skin Cancer cells. Immediately after removal, the layer is studied under a microscope. Layers of skin are extracted one by one until no more cancer cells are visible under the microscope.

  4. Excisional surgery: This procedure helps remove the tumour and some good skin around it to ensure that all cancer has been eradicated.

Other treatments can include curettage and electrodesiccation, immunotherapy, Radiation therapy, and Photodynamic therapy.

Prevention of Skin Cancer

Here are ways in which you can avoid getting Skin Cancer. Please consult a doctor before making any drastic lifestyle changes. Note that keep the geographical conditions prevalent in your locality in mind before following the mentioned ways.

1. Avoid being out in direct sunlight for too long: When possible, seek shelter. Keep in mind that the sun's rays are very strong between ten in the morning and two in the afternoon. Seek shade if your shadow is shorter than you are.

2. Use sun-protective clothes: Wear sun-protective clothes such as slacks, a long-sleeved shirt, UV-protective sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat. For more effective sun protection, buy clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) designation.

3. Use sunscreen:

- Apply a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB radiation.

- Wear sunscreen every time you walk outside, even on cloudy days.

- Apply enough sunscreen to protect any exposed skin that is not covered by clothing. 

- Remember to apply the cream on your feet, neck, ears, etc.

- Reapply sunscreen every two hours or after swimming or sweating when you're outside.

4. Perform regular skin self-exams

This helps detect Skin Cancer early, when it is most treatable, and contact a certified dermatologist if you notice any changes, itching, or bleeding on your skin or if you see any new or suspicious spots.

Frequently asked questions

Here are some common queries and their answers related to Skin Cancer.

How quickly does Skin Cancer develop?

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Skin Cancer can develop rapidly. It can turn into a fatal disease within six weeks and, if left untreated, spread to other body parts.

Is Skin Cancer painful?

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Most Skin Cancers, according to the American Cancer Society, do not exhibit unpleasant symptoms until they are rather large. If you have a mark on your skin, even if it doesn't hurt, you should see a doctor. Pain is occasionally caused by Skin Cancer.

Can Skin Cancer spread to other organs?

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Skin Cancer most commonly spreads to the lymphatics, brain, bones, liver, or lungs. The different symptoms experienced at this advanced stage depend on how far cancer has migrated.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. It is based on several secondary sources on the internet. As this content piece is not vetted by a medical professional, please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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