Skin cancer occurs when there is an excessive development of abnormal skin cells, which is a result of unrepaired DNA damage that are usually caused by exposure to UV radiation coming from the sun and equipment such as tanning beds. As a result, mutation or genetic defects occur and these can lead to an increased multiplication of skin cells, which will eventually form tumors.
According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. Based on the statistics from the organization, there are about 3.5 million basal and squamous cell skin cancer cases diagnosed in the United States each year. More so, Melanoma, a more serious type of skin cancer, accounts for 73,000 skin cancer cases in 2015.
Generally, skin cancer is signaled by changes in your skin such as:
- Changes in the color and size of a mole
- Roughness or bleeding in some areas of your skin
- Tenderness and pain
- Spots and sores that doesn’t heal or persistently itches, hurts, scabs, crusts, or bleeds
- Skin ulcers that doesn’t heal
There are three main types of skin cancer and they differ in severity and symptoms. Let’s look at each of them to have a better understanding of skin cancer as a whole.
Basal Cell Cancer
Basal cell cancer is the most common type of skin cancer. It usually occurs to body parts that are exposed to the sun such as the head, neck, face, scalp, ears, hands, shoulders, and back.
The likelihood that basal cell cancers will spread to the other parts of the body is slim, but early detection is still imperative to prevent their growth ahead of time.
Symptoms of basal cell cancer include:
- Areas in the skin that seem like scars. They are typically, firm, pale or yellow.
- Patches that are reddish, itchy, or scaly
- Bumps that are small, pink, or, red, but with blue, brown, or black regions
- Pink growths
- Open sores that don’t heal or recur
- Lumps that are shiny or pink
Squamous Cell Skin Cancers
Squamous cell skin cancers usually appear on areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun such as the face, ear, neck, lips, shoulders, legs, and the back of the hands. However, they can also appear in other parts of the skin that rarely gets in contact with sunlight, such as the genital area and other obscure regions that are typically covered by clothing.
Sunlight is typically the cause of squamous skin cancer but exposure to chemicals and huge amounts of radiation can also trigger this condition.
Squamous cell skin cancer has a higher likelihood of spreading to other parts of the body than basal cell skin cancer.
Symptoms of squamous cell skin cancer include:
- Rough patches that may crust or bleed
- Open sores that may have oozing areas that don’t heal or recurs
- Growths that appear like warts
- Pink lumps that have a hard scaly surface, which has the tendency to be tender, bleed, and develop into an ulcer
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that can develop anywhere on the skin. It begins in the melanocytes, which are the cells responsible for the brown pigment of the skin called melanin. It is not as common as basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer, but it can be more severe and dangerous.
Commonly, melanoma begins on the face and neck. However, gender may have an implication as to where melanoma will occur because it usually develops on the face or trunk among men, and on the lower legs among women.
Symptoms of melanoma include:
- Bleeding and changes in the size, color, and sensation of a mole
- Small lesions that has unusual borders and regions that are red, white, blue, or blue-black
- Dark lesions that appear on the palms, soles, fingertips, and toes and on the mucous membranes covering the nose, mouth, vagina, and anus
- Spots that are large and brownish with darker speckles
There are other cases of skin cancer such as Merkel cell carcinoma, Kaposi sarcoma, skin adnexal tumors, and other various types of sarcomas. They are very rare and only account for less than 1% of skin cancer cases.
Different types of skin cancer are treated and addressed differently, so it’s best to know their signs and how to tell them apart. Being familiar with the symptoms is essential for early detection, which increases chances of cure. If you see any suspicious changes in your skin, consult a doctor right away to detect any signs of skin cancer and prevent it on the onset.
Skin Cancer Risk Factors
A person’s chances of acquiring skin cancer is influenced by certain risk factors such as:
- Age – Older people may be more prone to skin cancer due to accumulated exposure to UV rays. However, even younger people can develop skin cancer if they experience excessive skin exposure under the sun.
- Weak Immune System – If you have conditions that make your immune system compromised or if you take drugs that suppress the function of your immune system due to an organ transplant, you may have an increased risk to skin cancer.
- Long-term skin inflammation – Inflammatory skin disease, severe burns, and underlying bone infection can increase a person’s chances of getting skin cancer.
- Fair skin – People with lighter skin have lower melanin levels, which can make them prone to skin damage caused by UV rays and sunburns.
- Dysplastic nevi – Dysplastic nevi are uncommon moles that may appear like melanoma. They can increase cancer risk by 10%. If you have dysplastic nevi, you should visit a dermatologist regularly to monitor your skin for any signs of melanoma.
- Family history – If a first degree relative has skin cancer or if you inherited a condition called Xeroderma Pigmentosum, a condition that affects the skin’s ability to repair UV damage, you may be more at risk for skin cancer.
- Smoking – Smoking can result to skin squamous cell skin cancer to form on the lips.
- Chemical exposure –People exposed to chemicals such as arsenic, coal, and paraffin may be at an increased risk for developing skin cancer.
- Medical treatments – Patients who have undergone radiation or treatment for psoriasis may have higher chances of having skin cancer.
- Previous skin cancer case – If you’ve had any form of skin cancer in the past, there’s a possibility that the condition will recur.
How to Spot Signs of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer signs and symptoms can be detected through self-examination. Check your skin in a well-lit room while you’re completely undressed. Use mirrors so that you can see obscure parts of your skin such as your back. It’s important to check all areas because skin cancer can develop even in the parts of your body that are not typically exposed to the sun.
You can also ask someone to help you examine your skin, especially the areas that you can’t normally see on your own like your back and scalp. This person could be your partner, a family member, or a loved one who’s close to you.
Likewise, it’s advisable to go for regular skin check-ups, especially if you think you are at risk for skin cancer or if you see anything out of the ordinary on your skin.
More than detecting it at an early stage, one of the best ways to battle skin cancer is awareness. Because you know what you’re up against, you can easily make lifestyle choices and conscious efforts to protect yourself and your loved ones from an increased risk to the disease.