Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common cancer affecting people all over the world. It's characterized by malignant growth developed in the epidermis (outermost skin layer) so it is visible and easily detectable during early stages. It usually affects face, head or neck and these are the most dangerous locations for developing skin cancer.

The most common cause of skin cancer is ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. Overmuch exposure to sunlight results in sunburn and blistering. Sunlight can also damage DNA in skin cells significantly increasing risk of skin cancer.

Although everyone can develop skin cancer children are very rarely affected. People above the age of 50 are most liable of developing skin cancer. Black people are affected less commonly.
Risks of getting this disease are increased in persons who have fair and/or freckles skin (because of small amount of melanin), light colored eyes and hair, frequent moles over skin (especially those of unusual size and shape). As many other types of malignant diseases skin cancer more oftenly affects genetically predispositioned people.

There are many other possible causes of skin cancer such as chronic non-healing wounds especially provoked by skin burning.

According to skin cancer symptoms, treatments and disease seriousness there are three main types of skin cancer:


Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) - is the most common type of skin cancer (occurring in about 75% of all skin cancers) usually affecting face and neck of older people arising from basal layers of the skin.

It starts as small shiny pink or pearly lump developing ulcerated centre. Small blood vessels can be seen in the tumor sometimes.

Tumor grows slow and it usually isn't dangerous. BCC doesn't spread over the skin, but sometimes it can penetrate deep under the skin causing "rodent ulcer". Thus it is usually removed by simply surgery including local anaesthetic.

Other possible procedures of removing BCC may include curettage (scalpel scraping), cryotherapy (freezing) or cautery (burning).

squamous_cell_carcinoma.jpgSquamous cell carcinoma (SCC) - is less common but more dangerous type of skin cancer because of its ability to spread. This spreading includes local lympt nodes and organs via blood.
It looks like small not healing sore that itches and weeps. It sometimes includes bleeding and ulceration. It usually affects head, neck and upper back (locations which are exposed to sunlight mostly).

Treatment for SCC includes removing by surgery (usually under local anaesthesia) or cryotherapy or cautery. Sometimes treatment may include removing of affected lymph nodes. Radiotherapy may be alternative. If not treated SCC can become really large.

malignant_melanoma.jpgMalignant melanoma - also known as melanoma, is the most dangerous type of all skin cancers but fortunately it isn't common. It is a cancer of melanocytes, cells that produce melanin in the skin.

Melanoma is characterized by brown, black or blue-black lesions that can be raised or flat. It usually have irregular borders. It can arise on the normal skin surface or on freckles or moles and it can arise anywhere in the body. Affected moles usually have changes of shape, they become more raised and have irregular borders. Changes of mole colour, bleeding or itching is also possible.

Melanoma grows quickly, spreading to local lymph nodes or organs via bloodstream so early detection is very important.
Surgery is primary way of treatment including removal of the lesion. Depending of cancer stage chemotherapy or radiotherapy may also be performed especially if metastasis to local organs has occurred.

There are also few more types of skin cancer but they are very rare. Those include dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans, merkel cell carcinoma and kaposi's sarcoma.

There is no vaccine or some similar method of prevention but chances of getting skin cancer may be significantly reduced by:
- avoiding the sun in period from 10h to 15h as much as possible
- avoiding any other kind UV radiation such as sunlamps
- wearing sun protective clothing
- applying SPF 30 protection to the skin during exposure to sun

Regular self-examination of the skin is highly recommended especially in people who have more chances for developing skin cancer (genetic predispositions, light coloured skin, moles...) because whatever type of skin cancer has been diagnosed, success of treatment mainly depends on early detection.

Pictures from this page were taken from Wikipedia.