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What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer is the overgrowth of skin cells that are more commonly exposed to sunlight. However, this common type of cancer can begin in skin areas that are not exposed to sun in normal circumstances.
There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma
Limiting or avoiding exposure to ultraviolet (UV) beams can decrease your risk of skin cancer. Evaluation of your skin for suspicious changes can help early diagnosis of cancer. Early diagnosis of cancer gives the highest chance of success treatment.
Where does skin cancer develop?
Skin cancers primarily occur in skin areas that are exposed to sun, such as scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms, hands and legs for females. However, it can start in areas that are rarely exposed to sun, such as palms, the skin under fingernails and toenails and genital area.
Skin cancer affects all individuals regardless of their skin color, including people with darker skin. Melanoma is more commonly diagnosed in people with dark skin, where it mainly affects the skin areas that are not exposed to sun.
What are the types of skin cancer?
Basal Cell Carcinoma:
Basal cell carcinoma generally develops in body parts that are exposed to sun, such as face or neck.
Basal cell carcinoma may be manifested as follows:
- Waxy lump appearing like a pearl.
- Flat, flesh or brown colored lesion that appears like a scar formation.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma:
Squamous cell carcinoma generally develops in sun exposed areas such as face, ears or hands. Squamous cell cancer is more likely to develop in skin areas that are not ordinarily exposed to sun in people with dark skin.
Squamous cell carcinoma can be manifested by;
- A firm, red nodule
- A flat lesion with scaly or crusted surface
Melanoma can occur at any part of the body with no specific sign or symptom or it may occur in an existing mole that transforms into cancer. Melanoma is typically seen on the face or trunk of men. This type of cancer is more commonly observed in the lower legs of female patients. Melanoma may develop on skin that is not exposed to sun in both genders.
Melanoma can occur in all people regardless of the skin tone. However, it tends to occur in palms or soles or the skin underneath the fingernails and toenails in people with dark skin.
Signs of meloma include:
- Large brownish spot with darker speckles.
- A mole that changes in size, color or feeling or that bleeds
- A small red, white, blue or blue-black colored lesion with irregular borders.
- Dark colored lesions in palms, soles, finger tips or toes or mucous membranes lining your mouth, nose, vagina or anus.
Types of cells in skin cancer:
Skin cancer originates from the epidermis, the uppermost layer of the skin. Epidermis is a thin layer that provides the protective sheath consisting of skin cells, which are continuously shed. Epidermis hosts 3 major types of cells:
- Squamous cells
- Basal cells
Identifying the origin of the cancer allows determining the type of cancer and treatment options.
Ultraviolet light and other potential causes:
The damage in DNA of skin cells is mostly caused by ultraviolet radiation found in sun rays and lights used in solariums. However, the sun exposure cannot explain the fact that skin cancers may also occur in skin that is not exposed to sun in normal circumstances. This finding points to potential of other risk factors that may contribute to your risk of cancer, such as exposure to toxic substances or diseases that weaken the immune system.
What are the risk factors of skin cancer?
The following factors increase your risk for skin cancer:
- Light skin color
- History of sunburn
- Overexposure to sun
- Sunny or high altitude climates
- Precancerous skin lesions.
- Family History of Skin Cancer.
- Personal history of skin cancer.
- Weakened immune system.
- Radiation exposure.
- Exposure to certain substances.
How is skin cancer diagnosed?
Your doctor may do following procedures to establish diagnosis of skin cancer:
Examination of skin
Collecting skin samples from suspicious areas for testing (skin biopsy)
How to prevent skin cancer?
Skin cancers are mostly preventable in nature. Following prevention clues can help protect you against skin cancer:
Avoid sun at mid-day. Sun rays are strongest from 10:00 to 16:00. Schedule your outdoor activities at other intervals of the day even in winter or cloudy weather.
You absorb UV radiation throughout the year and clouds offer very minimal protection from hazardous rays. Avoiding sun rays when they are strongest will help protecting from sun burns and tans that cause skin damage and increase the risk of skin cancer. Cumulative sun exposure may also cause skin cancer.
Use sunscreen products round the year. Sun screens cannot filter all hazardous UV rays, especially radiation that causes melanoma. However, they play a major role in overall sun protection program.
Use sun screens with wide spectrum that contain at least 15 SPFs (sun protection factor). Apply sun screen abundantly at 2-hour intervals or more frequently if you swim or sweat. Use plenty of sunscreen for the sun-exposed skin, including lips, earlobes and dorsum of your hands.
Wear protective clothes. Sunscreens do not offer complete protection against UV lights. Therefore, protect your skin by tightly woven, dark clothes that cover your arms and legs and wear a hat with wide brims that provides more protection relative to baseball caps and caskets.
Various companies sell clothes that offer protection from rays. Your dermatologist may recommend an appropriate brand.
Do not forget sun glasses. Prefer glasses with protection against both UV radiation types- UVA and UVB rays.
- Avoid solarium
- Self-examine your skin regularly and report changes to your doctor. Examine your skin regarding new skin growths or changes in existing moles, freckles, pustules and birth marks.