Skin cancers arise from the skin due to abnormal growth of skin cells. Skin cancer is the common form of cancer in the United States and can be cured effectively if diagnosed and treated in time. Most often, skin cancer develops in parts of the body exposed to the sun, such as the scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms and hands and legs (in women). It can also form in places that are not exposed to the sun, such as palms, under fingernails or toenails and genital areas.
Skin cancer can be itchy, but not in all cases. Basal cell skin cancer is a type of cancer that can appear as a crusty sore that is itchy. Melanoma is a deadly form of skin cancer that can present with itchy moles.
The common symptoms of skin cancer include
- Unusual changes in the skin
- Skin lesions that don’t go away, such as new mole, unusual growth, sore, scaly patch or dark spot
- Lesions with ragged edges
- Asymmetrical lesions
- Lesions with unusual colors, such as white, pink, black, blue or red
- Large lesions
- Evolving lesions or moles that change their size, color or shape
What are the types of skin cancer?
The following are the types of skin cancer:
Basal cell carcinomas arise from the basal cells in the epidermis (outer layer of the skin). It appears as a painless raised area on the skin, which may be shiny with small blood vessels running over it or as a raised area with an ulcer. This is the most common type of skin cancer and is usually treatable because it doesn’t spread far.
Squamous cell carcinoma arises from the squamous cells in the epidermis. It usually appears as a hard lump with a scaly top but may also form an ulcer. They are more likely to metastasize if they are not detected and treated early.
Melanoma is cancer that develops from melanocytes, the skin cells that produce melanin pigment. Melanomas resemble moles and sometimes arise from them. Melanoma is less common than other types of skin cancer but is more likely to grow and spread.
Merkel cell carcinoma is rare, aggressive skin cancer. The tumors appear as firm, painless lesions or nodules beneath the skin and in hair follicles on sun-exposed areas. They are usually associated with Merkel cell polyomavirus and have high risks of recurring and metastasizing.
- Lymphoma of the skin:
Skin lymphomas or cutaneous lymphomas arise in cells of the immune system in the skin.
This is a rare skin cancer that develops in lymph nodes or blood vessels in the skin. They appear as red, brown, or purple patches or tumor on the skin or mucous membranes. It is seen in people with severely compromised immune systems, such as acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) or inborn defects in white blood cells.
Sebaceous gland carcinoma is an uncommon, aggressive cancer that develops from the sebaceous (oil) glands in the skin. They usually appear as hard and painless nodules.
What causes skin cancer?
Skin cancer is caused by the damage and subsequent changes to the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) that trigger mutations. Sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays induce DNA mutations in the cells of the epidermis (outer layer of the skin). These mutations cause the skin cells to grow rapidly and form malignant tumors.
Risk factors for skin cancer
Factors that increase the risk of developing skin cancer include
- Excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun, tanning lamps, or other sources
- History of sunburn
- Living in tropical or high-altitude regions
- Family history of skin cancer
- History of any skin cancer
- Age older than 50 years
- Pale or freckled skin
- Natural blond or red hair
- Blue or green eyes
- Male gender
- Chronic infections and skin inflammation from scars and other conditions
- Sun-sensitive conditions, including xeroderma pigmentosum
- Extensive burns
- Precancerous skin growths, including actinic keratosis
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
- Weakened immune system due to illness (human immunodeficiency virus infection and acquired immune deficiency syndrome or HIV/AIDS)
- Taking certain immunosuppressive medications
- Radiation exposure
- Exposure to chemicals, such as arsenic, pitch, or creosote
- Multiple, large, or irregular moles
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How is skin cancer treated?
Treatment options for skin cancer depend on the size, location, type and stage of cancer.
- Cryotherapy: The tumor is frozen with liquid nitrogen, and then, the dead tissues are removed when the tumor thaws.
- Curettage and electrodessication: Layers of cancer cells are scraped away using a curette (spoon-like instrument), and any remaining cancer cells are destroyed with an electric needle.
- Excisional surgery: Cancerous tissue and surrounding healthy skin are removed.
- Mohs surgery: Tumor is removed layer by layer until no abnormal cells remain without removing excessive healthy skin.
- Chemotherapy: Specific medications are used to kill cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy: High-powered energy beams are used to kill cancer cells.
- Photodynamic therapy: Cancer cells are destroyed using a combination of laser light and medications.
- Immunotherapy/Biological therapy: This treatment encourages the body’s immune system to destroy cancer cells.
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American Academy of Dermatology. Types of Skin Cancer. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/skin-cancer/types/common
Holtel MR. Skin Cancer - Melanoma. Medscape. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/846566-overview
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