The skin is an organ which protects the body against the harmful effects of sunlight, infection, injury, and helps regulate body temperature and moisture. This article talks about the most common type of cancer, namely, skin cancer which usually occurs in areas exposed to sunlight.
Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of skin cells, forming a tumorous mass. It can be either benign (where the tumor can grow but not spread to other organs) or malignant (can spread to other organs). If it is detected early, it can be treated quickly with less scarring.
There are several different types of skin cancer based on which layer of the skin it is arising from. The common types are:
Depending on which type of skin cancer, the appearance can vary greatly. Look out for the following warning signs.
In case you or your physician spot a suspicious-looking sore on the skin, you will be referred to a dermatologist who can make a diagnosis based on its characteristic appearance alone. He may also order a skin biopsy to confirm his diagnosis where a sample tissue is removed from the site and sent away to a lab for examination under a microscope.
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Skin cancer usually presents as a painless, skin-colored, or bluish-red bump on the skin, especially in sun-exposed areas like the face, scalp, lips, ears, chest, neck, arms, legs, etc.
Signs of an early stage of cancer include harmless-appearing moles, skin sores, or abnormal skin masses.
New moles or skin lumps.
- A growing mole or bump.
- A notable change in the moles or growths.
- A lesion that is increasing in size, causing itching, spontaneous bleeding, and does not recover.
Scabbing is an indicator of melanoma, formed following bleeding from a tiny, flat, or raised, multicolored area with uneven borders.
Melanomas grow at a very rapid rate such that in six weeks, they metastasize and turn life-threatening. On the other hand, non-melanoma skin cancers are slow-growing. The basal cell carcinoma has the slowest rate and very rarely spread to other areas. The squamous cell carcinoma is also a slow-growing tumor but is comparatively faster than basal cell carcinoma and spreads to lymph nodes.
Basal cell carcinoma appears initially as a skin-colored, shiny bump on the skin that resembles a pimple. It may occur anywhere like hands, legs, chest, abdomen, face, etc.
- Skin lumps, spots, and scaly patches of psoriasis.
- The benign, wart-like appearance of seborrheic keratosis with similar areas of appearance like head, neck, chest, back, etc.
- Shiny bumps on the face due to trapped sebum in sebaceous hyperplasia.
- Nevus or mole.
- Reddish papules due to clustering blood vessels in cherry angioma.
A mole that starts exhibiting pain and tenderness to touch is an indicator of melanoma. On the contrary, there is no pain to touch associated with other skin cancer. Therefore, a painless bump itself poses a doubt for cancer.
Skin cancers have to be treated appropriately to avoid disfigurement and death. Melanomas regress by themselves because of the immune response. Still, it reverts only when it has spread to other parts like the liver, bones, brain, lungs, etc. Very rarely can keratoacanthomas shrink and go away on their own, but they grow and metastasize to other body parts in most cases.
Swollen and painful lymph nodes, fatigue, and undefined pain are the associated symptoms of skin cancer. Sometimes, melanomas can spread to the digestive tract and cause gastrointestinal symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.
Skin cancers can be diagnosed by visual inspection even at the initial stages after the appearance of a visible lump on the skin.
Topical application of anti-cancer agents is needed for skin cancers that have not spread to other parts, whereas skin cancers that have spread to other parts need systemic chemotherapy.
- Ultraviolet rays found in sunlight.
- Exposure to chemicals.
- Immunocompromised condition.
In the case of minor skin cancers, excisional biopsy itself removes the entire growth. In large growths, the following additional procedures may be required:
- Mohs surgery.
- Curettage and electrodesiccation.
- Biological therapy.
- Photodynamic therapy.
Last reviewed at:
07 Sep 2018 - 2 min read
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