What is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is defined as the abnormal growth of skin cells. Melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma are the three main types of skin cancer. Skin cancer will most often develop on areas of your body that receive more exposure to the sun's rays. Repeated overexposure and long-term damage from ultraviolet (UV) rays, or radiation, from the sun is one of the most common skin cancer causes. You can help to reduce your chances of developing skin cancer by reducing exposure to the sun, using sunscreen, and visiting your doctor if any abnormal changes to your skin develop.
Causes of Skin Cancer
When your skin cells develop mutations in their DNA, skin cancer develops, causing the mutated cells to grow uncontrollably and form cancerous cell masses. You skin is divided into multiple layers, with the outermost layer referred to as the epidermis. Your body continuously sheds dead skin cells in the epidermis layer as more cells take their place. The epidermis is where skin cancer originally develops.
The epidermis layer is comprised of three different types of skin cells including:
- Squamous cells - functions as the skin's inner lining and is located directly beneath the outer surface of your skin.
- Basal cells - This type of skin cell produces new skin cells and is located below the squamous cells.
- Melanocyte cells - These cells produce the chemical (melanin) that gives your skin its color and are located in the bottom portion of the epidermis. Melanin helps to protect your skin from further damage from UV rays.
Depending on which type of cell in the epidermis the skin cancer begins will affect the severity of the cancer, diagnosis, and treatment options. Some of the risk factors and causes of skin cancer and damage to your skin cells are listed below.
- Overexposure to UV rays, usually from the sun.
- Contact with harmful, toxic, or cancer causing materials, chemical, and substances.
- Pale skin makes your body more susceptible to damage from UV rays.
- Living in higher-altitude. As you increase in elevation on the earth, there is less atmosphere to filter out harmful UV rays.
- If you have excessive moles you are at a higher risk level for developing skin cancer.
- Predisposition to skin cancer (family history).
- Immunodeficiency conditions.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer will typically develop on areas of the skin that receive more exposure to the sun, such as areas around the head and face, neck, chest, arms, and legs. Symptoms and signs of skin cancer can include the following:
- Lesions or scar-like bumps
- Scab or sore that bleeds, heals, then comes back
- Waxy bumps on the skin
- Red and firm bumps
- A crusty, scaly lesion
- Moles that change in color and size
- Painful or itchy lesions
You should visit your doctor if you notice abnormal moles, lesions, bumps, scabs, or scars. Diagnosis of skin cancer will typically involve examining the area of concern and taking a sample to perform testing (biopsy).
Treatments for Skin Cancer
Treatment for skin cancer will depend on the type and how far it has spread. If caught early enough, skin cancer may not require further treatment except for removal of the growth. Additional treatment for skin cancer may involve the following:
- Surgical procedures including excisional or mohs surgery
- Radiation therapy
- Biological therapy
- Photodynamic therapy