MaryAnn Gerber was a teenager who visited a tanning salon every week. A few years later, she noticed a pink mole on her face, so she visited a plastic surgeon to get it removed. This is when she discovered that she was diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
She was detected with melanoma at the age of 24. No one in her family had a record of skin cancer and hence her doctor believed that her tanning led to the disease. Typically, melanoma caused at a young age is due to a genetic mutation.
She had two surgeries and left with a six-inch scar that runs down her left cheek. This gave her an opportunity to talk about skin cancer and sun safety when people ask her about it.
Now, she speaks about tanning and sun safety to increase awareness about skin cancer since she believes that losing your life to tanning is not worth it.
She was young and her tanning led to the disease, so it can happen to you too. Hence it is important to take care of your skin to prevent the disease.
In this article, we will share about the types of skin cancer, different stages, symptoms & causes of skin cancer and share light on diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer that will help you to detect skin cancer at an early stage and prevent yourself or your loved ones from the disease. So, let’s get started.
Skin Cancer is an abnormal growth of skin cells that usually grows in areas that are exposed to the sun, but it can also occur in areas of your skin that are not exposed to sunlight. You can reduce your risk of skin cancer by limiting exposure to UV radiation.
Types of Skin Cancer
Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer
It refers to all types of skin cancer that occur in the skin that are not melanoma. The most popular types of non-melanoma cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma
It is a form of skin cancer that grows in the squamous cells that make up the middle and outer layers of the skin. Though it is not life-threatening, it can be aggressive causing serious complications if left untreated.
It results from prolonged exposure to UV radiation from sunlight hence avoiding UV light exposure reduces the risk of the disease. It can be found in many places in your body wherever squamous cells are found in the skin.
- Basal Cell Carcinoma
It is a type of skin cancer that begins in the basal cells – a type of cell in the skin that produces new skin as the old ones die.
Basal cell carcinoma often appears on areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun such as the head and neck. Most of them are thought to be caused by long-term exposure to UV radiation from sunlight.
Melanoma Skin Cancer
It is the most serious type of skin cancer that grows in the cells that produce melanin that gives your skin its color. It can be formed in your eyes and sometimes inside your body, such as in your nose or throat.
The cause of melanoma is not clear, but exposure to UV radiation from sunlight and tanning increases the risk of developing melanoma.
The abnormal cells have not spread beyond the epidermis, the outer layer of the skin.
Cancer may have scattered to the dermis, the next layer of skin but it is less than two centimeters.
Cancer has not spread to lymph nodes but is larger than two centimeters.
Cancer has spread to nearby tissue and is larger than three centimeters.
Cancer has spread beyond the primary tumor site to lymph nodes and bone marrow and is larger than three centimeters.
In this stage, the skin cancer has not penetrated below the epidermis.
Cancer may have spread to the dermis, the second layer of the skin.
Cancer has not spread beyond the original cancer site, but it is larger in size.
Cancer has spread to lymph nodes or nearby skin.
This is the most advanced stage of melanoma and is an indication that cancer has spread beyond the primary tumor site to lymph nodes, organs, or tissues.
Basal cell carcinoma symptoms
The signs of Basal cell carcinoma include:
- Sore that doesn’t cure after seven to 10 days
- Red Patch that may be itchy, or bleed easily
- Shiny bump
This usually appears on the areas of your body that are exposed to the sun. It tends to be easy to treat and grows very slowly making it less likely to spread to other organs like muscle, or bones.
Squamous cell carcinoma symptoms
- Scaly red patches that bleed
- Open sores that bleed and don’t cure
- Tender raised growths
It often causes intense itching which further irritates and inflames your skin. Rubbing these areas of your skin can lead to infections. If left untreated, squamous cell carcinoma can grow larger and can even spread to lymph nodes and other organs.
This is the most common type of skin cancer and most frequently develops on the women’s leg and on the chest, back, head, and neck of men. However, this type of skin cancer can be found in any part of the body including your eye.
You can use the “ABCDE” method to determine if a mole can be melanoma.
- A – asymmetrical: Cancer moles are asymmetrical which means that one-half of cancerous cells look different from the other.
- B – border: The edges of a cancerous mole will be ragged, raised, or notched in borders whereas a healthy mole should feel smooth and even.
- C – change in colour: The cancerous mole will have different colours like tan, brown, black, red, white, blue whereas a healthy mole will have a uniform colour.
- D – diameter: The cancerous mole will be larger than 6 mm about the diameter of a pencil eraser.
Both basal cell cancer and squamous skin cancer are caused by UV rays from the sun or tanning. UV rays can harm the DNA inside your skin cells causing unusual cell growth.
Squamous cell skin cancer can also develop after long-term exposure to chemicals causing cancer. It can grow within a burn scar or ulcer.
The cause of melanoma is unclear. Similar to basal and squamous cell skin cancers, melanoma can be caused by UV rays. But it can develop in parts of your body that are not exposed to sunlight.
Below are a few of the skin cancer risk factors that include:
- Family history of skin cancer
- Severe exposure to UV rays from the sun
- Exposed to certain substances like arsenic, radium, or creosote
- Vacation in sunny or warm climates
- Work outdoors often
- History of severe sunburns
- Have multiple irregular or large moles
- Have a weak immune system
During a DRE, your physician inserts a gloved and lubricated finger into your rectum to examine your prostate, which is next to the rectum. If your doctor becomes aware of any abnormalities, you may need more tests.
A handheld device known as dermoscope is used to light up and magnify lesions.
A skin tissue is taken as a sample for a lab test to check for cancer cells.
It is like an ultrasound where it uses laser light to display images of each layer of tissue without damaging the skin.
X-rays, CT scans, PET scans may be performed to determine the spread of skin cancer.
It may be done to identify patients with a family history of melanoma.
Your treatment preferences for skin cancer depend on the size, type, depth, and location of the lesions. After considering these factors, your doctor may recommend one of the following treatments:
This type may be considered for the small, well-defined primary tumour. In this, early skin cancers cells are frozen with liquid nitrogen called cryosurgery. You may need to repeat the treatment to remove the growth fully.
This type of treatment may be suitable for any type of skin cancer. Your doctor cuts the cancerous tissue and surrounding margin of healthy skin.
A powerful beam of light destroys the growth with little damage to the surrounding tissue. It may lead to bleeding, swelling, and scarring. The doctor may use this therapy to treat superficial skin cancers.
This is for larger, recurring, or difficult to treat skin cancers. It is often used in areas where it is necessary to protect as much skin as possible, such as on the nose. Your doctor removes the skin growth until no abnormal cells remain. This method has the maximum cure rate of all surgical treatments.
It uses high beams such as X-rays to kill cancer cells. It can be used when cancer cells are not completely removed during skin cancer surgery.
In this therapy, drugs are used to destroy cancer cells. If the cancer is in the top layer of the skin, then anti-cancer agents may be applied directly to the skin. It is often used for cancer cells in an arm or leg that frequently reoccur.
In this treatment, both laser and drugs are used to destroy the cancer cells.
This therapy uses your body’s immune system to kill cancer cells.
After removing most of the growth, your doctor scrapes away layers of cancer cells with a circular blade called a curet. An electric needle breaks any remaining cancer cells. This method is the most widely used for removing primary basal cell carcinomas.
Melanoma survival rate
- The five-year survival rate for melanoma stages 0,1 and 2 is very high i.e., 98.4%.
- The five-year survival rate for melanoma stage 3 is 63.6%.
- The five-year survival rate for melanoma stage 4 is 22.5%.
Basal cell and squamous cell survival rate
Both cancers have a very high survival rate. The five-year survival rate for basal cell carcinoma is 100% and for squamous cell carcinoma is 95%.
One can easily find low-cost treatment for skin cancer in India along with quality services as compared to other western countries.
- The cost of Mohs surgery costs around $3000 in India.
- Cryosurgery costs around $4000 in India.
- Radiation therapy and Chemotherapy costs around $3000 in India.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer that occurs in humans and can get transformed into cancer if left untreated. In most cases, skin cancer is curable if detected at an early stage. You can also avoid exposure to the sun to reduce the risk of skin cancer.
Frequently Asked Questions and patient concerns:
Is Skin Cancer deadly?
Melanoma is deadly when it occurs but can be cured if detected at an early stage.
Does Skin Cancer Itch?
Skin cancer may itch, bleed, or even hurt once it has grown larger.
Can Skin Cancer go away by itself?
Melanoma on the skin can go away on its own since the body’s immune system can attack the disease.
How fast does skin cancer spread?
Melanoma spreads quickly in 6 weeks and if untreated can spread to other parts of the body. It appears on the skin that is not even exposed to the sun.
At what age does skin cancer typically occur?
Most nonmelanoma cancers such as basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas appear after age 50.
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