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Home :: Skin Disorders

Skin Cancer - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

 

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Skin cancer is the most common form of human cancer. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, along with several rare forms of skin cancer, are referred to collectively as nonmelanoma skin cancer. Anyone can get skin cancer-no matter what your skin type, race or age, no matter where you live or what you do. Skin cancer generally develops in the epidermis, the outermost layer of skin, so a tumor is usually clearly visible. Cancers caused by UV exposure may be prevented by avoiding exposure to sunlight or other UV sources, wearing sun-protective clothes, and using a broad-spectrum sun screen. The most common warning sign of skin cancer is a change in the appearance of the skin, such as a new growth or a sore that will not heal. This makes most skin cancers detectable in the early stages. Together, these two are also referred to as nonmelanoma skin cancer. Melanoma is generally the most serious form of skin cancer because it tends to spread throughout the body quickly. There are three common types of skin cancer, each of which is named after the type of skin cell from which it arises.

The numbers of skin cancers vary from country to country. In tropical countries with large white populations, the numbers are proportional to the amount of sunlight. Most skin cancers can be treated by removal of the lesion, making sure that the edges (margins) are free of tumor cells. The excisions provide the best cure for both early and high-risk disease. Squamous cell carcinoma is a skin cancer also related to sunlight exposure. It starts as a small, firm, painless lump occurring most often on the lip, ear or back of the hand. It enlarges fairly rapidly and then will often break down in the centre to form a crater. This is called ulceration. It can spread to the lymph nodes and from there to various parts of the body. Rodent ulcer can be treated by direct surgical removal, by radiation or by freezing. Squamous cell carcinoma must be removed surgically as early as possible. Unlike the rodent ulcer, this tumour may spread to other parts of the body and this can lead to death.

Causes of Skin cancer

Exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun is the primary cause of skin cancer. Some rare hereditary conditions, e.g. albinism and xeroderma pigmentosa. However, this does not mean that skin cancer can be passed on to other family members by abnormal genes. Arsenic found in old-fashioned tonics and agricultural insecticides is a common cause. You should wear protective clothing if you are handling these substances frequently at work.

Common causes and risk factors of Skin cancer:

  • History of severe sunburn.
  • Some hereditary conditions, e.g. albinism and xeroderma pigmentosa.
  • Human immunodeficiency virus.
  • A tendency to freckle or burn easily.
  • Family history of skin cancer.

Signs and Symptoms of Skin cancer

Like melanoma, non-melanoma skin cancer frequently develops on areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun. It often occurs on the neck, face, back, forearms, and the backs of the hands. Signs that might indicate a malignant melanoma include change in size, shape, color or elevation of a mole. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the most common non-melanoma skin cancers. Often this cancer appears as a firm red bump or ulceration of the skin that does not heal. Squamous cell carcinomas can spread to lymph nodes in the area.

Sign and symptoms may include the following :

  • Enlargement of an existing skin lesion.
  • Reddish patch or irritated area, frequently occurring on the chest, shoulders, arms, or legs.
  • Poorly defined borders of a skin lesion.
  • Itching.
  • Ulceration or bleeding of an existing mole.

Treatment for Skin cancer

Treatment is more likely to work well when cancer is found early. If not treated, some types of skin cancer cells can spread to other tissues and organs. If a melanoma has spread, chemotherapy can be used, but it is not usually effective. After a melanoma has spread, surgery and radiotherapy can be used on the secondary tumours. This will prolong life but it is not a cure. In the case of disease that has spread (metastasized) further surgical or chemotherapy may be required.

Treatment may include:

  • Most skin cancers can be treated by removal of the lesion, making sure that the edges are free of tumor cells. The excisions provide the best cure for both early and high-risk disease.
  • If a melanoma has spread, chemotherapy can be used, but it is not usually effective.
  • After a melanoma has spread, surgery and radiotherapy can be used on the secondary tumours. This will prolong life but it is not a cure.
  • In the case of disease that has spread further surgical or chemotherapy may be required.