Cancer, also called malignant neoplasm, occurs when cells in the body divide uncontrollably. Cancer occurs when the genetic material in the body cells is damaged and the body is unable to repair this damage. These damaged cells divide and multiply uncontrollably forming a tumor mass. Uncontrolled division of skin cells is called skin cancer. Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer with over 1 million new cases reported every year in the U.S.
The most common changes observed in skin cancer include a new growth or sore that does not heal well. The two most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. They are also referred to as non-melanoma skin cancer.
Basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. About 80% of skin cancer cases are found to be basal cell carcinoma. It can look like a small pearly nodule or pinkish patch on the skin. It can also appear as a sore that seems to heal but returns repeatedly or as yellowish waxy scar. It develops as a result of short-term exposure to harmful UV rays such as during vacations and on the sun-exposed areas such as the face, ears, scalp, neck and trunk. These cancers grow slowly and rarely spread to other parts of the body.
Squamous cell carcinoma
About 16% of skin cancers are squamous cell carcinoma. Squamous cell carcinoma develops most commonly in middle-aged and elderly people with fair complexion and long-term exposure to sun rays. It appears as a crusted or scaly area over your skin. It is most commonly seen on sun-exposed areas of the body.
Sun exposure is the most common cause of skin cancer. Exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays damages the DNA in the skin cells. When your body fails to repair the damaged DNA, which has occurred with chronic sun exposure, cancer develops.
Sores that does not heal, or grow bigger turn into tumors. Sores or tumors in or around the body openings should be watched carefully as these can behave aggressively.
Dermatologists diagnose skin cancer by physical observation of the shape, size, color, and texture of an affected or suspicious area. They may also order a skin biopsy where a piece of skin from the affected area is removed and observed under a microscope for the presence of cancer cells. They may also perform various tests to exclude other causes for the lesions.
Your dermatologist considers various factors before initiating treatment such as the type, location, severity or aggressiveness of the cancer, patients’ age and condition. There are several treatment options available to treat skin cancers. Treatment is either medical therapy or surgical therapy.
- Topical medicines – Topical creams containing 5-fluorouracil (Efudex®) imiquimod (Aldara®) are applied to attack the cancer cells and stimulate the immune system
- Interferon injections – Intralesional injections of interferon
Curettage and desiccation – Curettage involves scooping out the cancer mass with the help of a spoon-like instrument called a curette.
Desiccation is then done by applying an electric current to control bleeding and kill the remaining cancer cells
Surgical excision – Removal of the entire tumor mass
Radiation therapy – This treatment uses high energy radiation to damage cell’s DNA. It is usually used to treat cancer which has spread to organs and cancer in areas that are difficult to treat surgically
- Cryosurgery – In this technique, liquid nitrogen is applied to freeze and kill the abnormal cancer cells
- Laser surgery – Cancer cells are destroyed and their growth is arrested using laser beams
- Mohs micrographic surgery – Also known as “microscopically controlled excision”, in this method the surgeon removes a small piece of the tumor mass and examines it under the microscope during surgery. The procedure of removing and examining continues until the cancerous growth is removed and skin sample is free of cancer cells. It is preferred for large tumors that recur after previous treatment
Avoiding sun exposure is a good preventive measure. Some common preventive tips you should follow include:
- Avoid unprotected exposure to the sun between 10 am to 4 pm
- Wear broad brimmed hats and protective clothing when outdoors in the sun
- Use a water resistant sunscreen with UVA protection and SPF 30 or higher regularly
- Apply sunscreen liberally and apply every two to three hours, especially after swimming or physical activity that may cause sweating
See complete Wikipedia article here.
For more information from the American Academy of Dermatology click here.