Skin cancer is the commonest of all cancers that affect humans. Cancer occurs when normal cells undergo a change and grow continually without control and invade nearby tissues. There are three major types of skin cancer.
- Basal cell carcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma
- Melanoma (also called Malignant Melanoma)
Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are the most common of skin cancers and are classified as non-melanoma skin cancers. These cancers are less aggressive and so are less likely to spread to other parts of the body however result in permanent blemishes and scars. Melanoma is a highly aggressive cancer that tends to spread to other parts of the body, especially when treatment is not started early on. In the overall total of patients diagnosed with skin cancer, patients with Melanoma make up a small but important percentage. Melanoma is the highest cause of death among the three major types of skin cancer.
Cells in the skin produce melanin which is responsible for the skin’s natural colour and protects the body from the sun’s UV light radiation. When important parts of these cells become damaged, they grow abnormally and uncontrollably leading to melanoma.
Skin cancers begin with noticeable and unusual changes to the skin which are initial non-cancerous but over time can become cancerous.
The changes include;
- Dysplastic nevi (Abnormal moles)
- Actinic keratosis
Dysplastic Nevi: THIS IS THE SCIENTIFIC NAME FOR abnormal moles .
Moles are normal growths on the skin which many people have. They normally don’t become cancerous. Normal moles are brown, tan or skin-coloured, oval or round in shape, smooth surfaced and normally do not reach quarter-inch across in size.
Over time, these normal moles can then develop into abnormal moles which are usually irregular in shape with notched or fading borders and larger than a quarter inch across, an indicator of a mole becoming cancerous.
Actinic Keratosis: This is an area of rough skin, red or brown coloured with scaly surfaces. They could be non-cancerous and can go away on their own or become cancerous.
- Exposure to high levels of radiation.
- Chemicals such as arsenic and hydrocarbons found in tar, oils and soot.
- Exposure to high levels of UV light rays either from the sun or from tanning booths or beds.
- Skin type – people with very fair skin that freckles and sunburn easily.
- Hair and eye colour – people with blond or red hair and blue or green eyes.
- History of severe sunburn
- Family history of melanoma
- The risk factor of melanoma increases with age
- Genetic disorders that deplete melanin such as albinism and xeroderma pigmentosum
TESTS FOR SKIN CANCER
If you have a mole and you’re concerned it is abnormal, it is best to see a dermatologist. The dermatologist may use a dermatoscope to scan the unusual area on your skin or unusual mole, or take a skin sample from the suspicious area (biopsy) for further analysis.
Treatment for basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas is usually through surgical removal of the cancerous tissues which is usually adequate, but sometimes chemotherapy and radiotherapy also may be needed for squamous cell carcinomas. For melanoma, treatment requires several methods like surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and immunotherapy.
Skin cancer and its treatments may result in changes to skin such as colour changes and scars. Some changes may be nonpermanent and could be present of a short period of time or reduce in intensity with time while others may last a long time or become permanent.
These changes may affect the patient’s body image and it is important that skin cancer patients are made to see themselves in ways that preserve their self-esteem.
The following are ways to make improvements to the appearance of such scars and blemishes;
- Make-up: This can cover scars or other changes to the skin
- Reconstructive surgery: This can be used to repair the skin where the cancerous tissue was removed and the area nearby.
- Prosthesis: A prosthesis is an artificial replacement for a body part. This may be used when reconstructive surgery can’t repair the skin, if the tissues in that area cannot move normally or if reconstructive surgery cannot be done. Prosthesis can be designed specifically for the body part of the person that needs it.
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- J. Tobias and D. Hochhauser (2015). Cancer and its management, 7th edition. Wiley-Blackwell
- V.T. de Vita, T.S. Lawrence and S.A. Rosenberg (2015). Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology, 10th edition. Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins
- Cancer Research UK, (Accessed May 11, 2019). www.cancerresearchukorg.
- Canadian Cancer Society (Accessed May 11, 2019). www.cancer.ca.
- WebMD (Accessed May 11, 2019). www.webmd.com