Did you know that the skin is your body’s largest organ? It shelters your entire body and is responsible for protecting you against harmful elements from the environment, which include hot and cold temperatures, bacteria, virus, and pollutants. The skin also plays a significant role in removing toxins from the body through perspiration, as well as regulate your body temperature, and of course, provide your sense of touch. Moreover, as if the skin did not do enough, it even assists in producing large quantities of vitamin D, which allows the body to absorb calcium and promote bone growth.
How Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer Develops
Like the rest of our organs, the skin is susceptible to developing cancer. Skin cells are prone to changing and at some point, may behave abnormally. Although these changes may only cause non-cancerous or benign growths such as moles, skin tags, warts, and dermatofibromas — all of which may also be indications of skin cancer. A precancerous condition of the skin is actinic keratosis.
Some skin changes that cause non-melanoma skin cancer tend to start in the basal cells, which are round cells located at the topmost layer of the skin (epidermis). This particular type of cancer is called basal cell carcinoma (BCC), which makes up 75% to 80% of all skin cancers. Non-melanoma skin cancer can also sprout in squamous cells of the skin or flat cells found in the outermost part of the epidermis. This type of cancer is called squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and makes up an estimated 20% of all skin cancers.
Both BCC and SCC tend to grow slowly and in most cases, found early. The disease can also metastasize to other parts of the body, but the incidence is rare with non-melanoma skin cancer.
Basal Cell Carcinoma Symptoms
- An open wound that continually bleeds, oozes, or crusts for many weeks
- A bump or elevated border that appears glistening red, pink, pearly white, or translucent
- A pink or red irritated area that may crust or itch, but rarely hurts
- A scar-like white, yellow, or waxy area, often with a poorly defined border
Squamous Cell Carcinoma Symptoms
- An open wound that bleeds or persists for several weeks
- A sudden wart-like growth
- A prevalent, scaly red patch with irregular borders that may bleed easily
- A raised patch with a central depression and a rough surface
Other types of skin cancer may spread along the nerves of the body. Symptoms include pain, itching, numbness, and tingling or a feeling of ants crawling under the skin. Other warning signs may include lumps or bumps under the skin of the neck, armpit, or groin area.
There is convincing evidence that the following factors increase your risk for non-melanoma skin cancer:
Ultraviolet radiation (UVR)
Excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is the most significant risk factor for developing skin cancer. The primary source of UVR is the sun, while indoor tanning equipment (sunlamps and tanning beds) is also a source that increases your risk of BCC and SCC.
Light skin, eyes, and hair
If you have fair features, you are likely to have less melanin in your body. Melanin is what gives your skin, eyes, and hair their distinct coloring. If you possess a naturally light complexion and have had terrible sunburns throughout your life, you are at high risk for non-melanoma skin cancers.
History of skin cancer
Like the majority of cancers, skin cancer is also prominent in people who have had BCC or SCC. If your family has a long history of battling skin cancers, you are also at high risk of developing the disease.
Weak immune system
If you easily fall in, you may have a weak immune system. Other factors such as having undergone an organ transplant and an ongoing intake of heavy medication may also weaken your immune system, which increases your risk for non-melanoma cancers of the skin.
Using X-rays or similar forms of radiation puts you at higher risk of developing non-melanoma skin cancer. The disease may develop 15 to 20 years after receiving radiation therapy.
Arsenic is a naturally occurring substance found in rocks, soil, certain types of wood preservatives, pesticides, and insecticides. If you work in mining and smelting industries, or in facilities that manufacture pesticides, you may be heavily exposed to arsenic and increase your risk of developing non-melanoma skin cancer.
Psoralen and Ultraviolet A Radiation or PUVA therapy is a treatment targeting skin conditions such as psoriasis. Although the use and combination of the drug psoralen with UVA radiation is an effective treatment for psoriasis, it does make the skin extra sensitive to UVA light. Thus, repetitive PUVA therapy increases your risk of developing SCC.
Xeroderma pigmentosum is a hereditary epidermal condition that affects the skin’s ability to repair sun damage. If you suffer from xeroderma pigmentosum, your skin is more sensitive to UVR, causing it to age prematurely and change in color. A xeroderma pigmentosum diagnosis also puts you at high risk of developing either non-melanoma or melanoma skin cancers.
Other Possible Risk Factors
The following factors are also linked to non-melanoma skin cancer. However, there is insufficient evidence to prove for sure that they are risk factors. Further studies and research are necessary to clarify the role of these risk factors for non-melanoma skin cancer:
- Smoking tobacco
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
- Consumption of photosensitizing drugs that make your skin more sensitive to the sun
- Having lots of moles and freckles
If you are concerned about these risk factors and have witnessed alarming changes in your skin, please consult your doctor for proper diagnosis. Be sure to discuss every ache, pain, and discomfort, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms. If skin cancer is diagnosed, you can rely on New Hope Medical Center to help alleviate your symptoms — an essential part of any cancer care and treatment. We provide the most comprehensive treatments of over 200 types of cancers, including chronic diseases of the skin. Call us today at 480-666-1403.