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Skin Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments & Remedies

Skin Cancer (a.k.a: Skin Carcinoma) can be curable if diagnosed in the early stages. However, recent research shows a rise in the incidence of skin cancer. The main reason for the high incidence over the past 50 years may be changes occurring in outdoor activities and exposure to sunlight.

Skin cancer

What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer develops in areas where the skin is mostly exposed to the sun. It can be a primary or a recurrent condition. It occurs in the upper layer of the skin i.e. epidermis. The epidermis consists of basal cells, squamous cells, and melanocytes. Skin cancer is divided based on the cells affected due to cancer.

Types of Skin Cancer

The common forms of skin cancer are:

  1. Basal Cell Carcinoma: It is the most common form of skin cancer. As it gets metastasized rarely, it is considered to be the least dangerous. It arises in basal cells that form the new skin cells. These cells are present in the outer layer of the skin beneath the squamous cells. Basal cell carcinoma is characterized by a small bump or scaly lesions in which are red or pale in colour. Common sites of the lesions are face, ears, neck, and arms.
  2. Squamous Cell Carcinoma: This type of cancer may or may not metastasize. It arises in squamous cells that form the lining of the most of the organs of the body. The lesions associated with this cancer is characterized by firm, red, flat, and scaly lesions. Common sites of this cancer are lips, ears, back of the hands, and legs.
  3. Melanoma: It is a rare type of skin cancer. However, it is a life-threatening condition as it metastasizes rapidly in most of the cases. It arises in melanocytes that are responsible for pigmentation of the skin. It is characterized by brown or black lesions that are of different sizes and have irregular borders. These lesions are commonly seen in the areas where the skin is not exposed to the sun.

Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are also referred to as nonmelanoma skin cancers.

Other Skin Cancers:

Merkel Cell Carcinoma: It is a rare form of skin cancer characterized by red nodules on the face (usual presentation and can occur in other areas). Merkel cells are present in the epidermis and connect to nerves that are essential for a sense of touch.

Lymphomas of the skin: Cancer arises in the lymphocytes present in the lymph nodes of the skin. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma arises in lymphocytes present in the skin; therefore it is referred to as skin lymphoma.

What Causes Skin Cancer?

Chronic exposure to solar or artificial UV radiation (released from sunlamps, sun beds, and tanning booths) or other risk factors can lead to mutations in the DNA of skin cells. These mutations can result in skin lesions, thus leading to skin cancer gradually.

UV radiation may also cause actinic keratoses. It is characterized by dry, scaly lesions on the skin. These lesions are precancerous and may develop into squamous cell carcinoma if left untreated.

Skin Cancer Symptoms:

Signs and symptoms of skin cancer are:

  • Asymmetrical lesions
  • Irregular border
  • Different coloured lesions
  • Larger diameter (more than ¼ inch or 6 mm)
  • Evolving lesions i.e. colour, shape, or size may change over time

If you have any of the above symptoms, consult a healthcare provider immediately.

Skin Cancer Risk Factors:

Exposure to UV radiation is the major risk factor for skin cancer. Elderly people and people with fair or light-coloured skin are also at risk. Other common risk factors for skin cancer include:

  • Family history or genetics
  • Presence of chronic non-healing wounds
  • Presence of chronic inflammatory skin conditions such as lichen planus
  • History of burns
  • Presence of a large number of moles
  • Weak immune system
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection
  • Previous radiation therapy
  • Chronic exposure to chemicals such as arsenic
  • Smoking
  • Low levels of vitamin D

Skin Cancer Diagnosis:

After taking a thorough health history, the health care provider performs a physical examination. During the physical exam, colour, size, shape, and texture of the lesions are examined. If skin cancer is suspected, the following tests can be done to confirm the diagnosis.

Biopsy: A small sample is taken from the affected area with the help of sterile razor blade (shave biopsy), needle (needle biopsy), punch (punch biopsy), or a scalpel (excision biopsy).If the cancer is in advanced stages or suspected to have metastasized, imaging tests are recommended.

Computed Tomography (CT-scan) or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans are recommended to identify the spread of cancer in nearby tissues such as the lymph nodes or other organs.

Staging of Skin Cancer

Staging of skin cancer is done based on the extent of the disease and size of the lesion:

  • Stage 0 –The cancer confined to the epidermis
  • Stage 1 –The cancer confined to the skin, but the size of the lesion is 1 to 2 cm
  • Stage 2 – The cancer confined to the skin, but the size of the lesion is 2 to 4 cm; ulcerated lesion
  • Stage 3 – The cancer spread to nearby lymph nodes
  • Stage 4 – The cancer spread to internal organs

Skin Cancer Treatments:

Treatment of skin cancer depends on the patient’s age, overall health, and type and location of cancer. Surgery is the most common mode of treatment. Treatment options include:

Mohs’ Surgery: It is a surgical technique in which the tumour is removed in thin layers progressively until the tumour is completely removed. This helps in minimizing the removal of surrounding tissue.

Cryosurgery: In this procedure, affected skin is exposed to extreme cold oris frozen to destroy the abnormal cells. The destroyed skin cells fall off after the procedure.

Photodynamic Therapy (PDT): Laser light along with photosensitive agents are used to destroy cancer cells.

Chemotherapy: Chemotherapeutic agents interfere with the growth of cancer cells. These agents are given either orally or intravenously.

Immunotherapy Agents: These agents act on the immune system to destroy cancer cells. Examples include iplimumab andivolumab.

Skin Cancer Remedies:

Making certain lifestyle modifications can help in speedy recovery from skin cancer:

  • Make sure that there are no toxins used in the body products.123
  • Consume a healthy diet.
  • Be physically active. Exercise regularly.
  • Take vitamin D supplements as per the advice of a healthcare provider.

Prevention and Cure for Skin Cancer:

Measures that help to prevent and cure skin cancer are:

  • Avoid tanning.
  • Don’t stay under hot sun for longer time. Move to shade.
  • Wear protective clothing such as hat, sunglasses, and scarf while going outdoors in hot climate.
  • Apply sunscreen lotion of sun protection factor (SPF)> 15.
  • Avoid tobacco.
  • Undergo annual examination by a dermatologist or regular self-exams if there is a history of skin cancer.

It is very important to avoid sunburns even in children. Because even two or more blistering sunburns in children can increase the risk of skin cancer in later stages of life.

FAQs

1. Does skin cancer cause itching?

Most of the skin cancers do not cause itching. But it can be a side effect of the skin cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

2. Does skin cancer spread from person to person?

Skin cancer is not contagious and does not spread from one person to another by physical contact or sharing food.

3. Who diagnoses skin cancer?

Dermatologists are the specialists that deal with skin problems. If the cancer is advanced and requires a surgery, a surgical oncologist is recommended. Surgical oncologists are cancer specialist in removing the tumors by performing a surgery.

1.
Epidemiology of skin cancer. Pubmed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25207363. Accessed May 3, 2018.
2.
Skin Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)–Patient Version. National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/types/skin/patient/skin-treatment-pdq. Accessed May 3, 2018.
3.
Skin Cancer. Harvard Health Publishing- HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL. https://www.health.harvard.edu/topics/skin-cancer. Accessed May 3, 2018.

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