You must have noticed any scar or mole on your skin. But, do you know, this strange mole can be cancerous in some cases. It becomes crucial to determine any unnecessary moles or scars on your skin.
Any new marks or spots that are distinct from other marks on your skin – and any changing moles – are the early signs of skin cancer. This type of cancer is one of the most common of all the human cancers. The incidence rates of skin cancer are alarmingly rising, globally.
Early detection of skin cancer is important, as it can spread to other parts of the body. The earlier you discover the signs, the sooner you can seek therapy.Read on to know more about the types, risk factors and preventive tips for skin cancer.
- What is skin cancer?
- Types of skin cancer
- Signs and symptoms
- Risk factors that increase the risk of skin cancer
- Tips to reduce skin cancer risk
What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer can occur as a result of an uncontrolled and abnormal growth of cells in the skin. It occurs due to mutations in DNA induced from ultraviolet radiations affecting cells of epidermis. These mutations can lead to rapid multiplication of cancer cells and form malignant tumors.
Primarily, it develops on the areas of skin exposed to the sun, including legs, neck, scalp, face, ears, chest, arms, hands, and lips. However, it may also occur on parts of the skin not commonly exposed to sunlight, such as palms, genital area, and beneath your fingernails or toenails.
Types of skin cancer
Your skin is made up of different types of cells. When the DNA of these cells get impaired, they can become cancerous. The type of skin tumor you develop depends on the type of cell in which it is initiated. Below are the common types of skin cancer:
- Non melanoma skin cancers (Squamous cell carcinoma and Basal cell carcinoma)
Other rare forms of skin cancers include Kaposi Sarcoma, Actinic Keratosis, Merkel Cell Carcinoma, Lymphoma of the Skin, Keratoacanthoma, Sebaceous Gland Carcinoma, and Dermatofibrosarcoma Protuberans. Regardless of its type, skin cancer should be expeditiously diagnosed and treated to avoid unwanted complications.
Signs and symptoms
Any new growth in the form of wart, crusty spot, ulcer, mole or sore, or a change in mole and a sore that doesn’t heal can be early signs of skin cancer. These signs and symptoms may vary according to the type of skin cancer and are explained as below:
Symptoms of Basal cell carcinoma
- A pearly or waxy bump
- A flat, flesh-colored or brown scar-like lesion
- A bleeding or scabbing sore that heals and comes back
- A firm area of skin which appears similar to scar
- An itchy and raised patch of skin
Symptoms of Squamous cell carcinoma
- A firm, red nodule
- A flat lesion with a scaly, crusted surface
- Persistent, scaly red patches with irregular borders that may bleed easily
- Open sores that ooze or crust
- A growth that looks like a wart
Symptoms of Melanoma
A pigmented atypical cancerous lesion is the first symptom of melanoma. It may vary in:
- Asymmetry- One side of the lesion does not look like the other.
- Border irregularity- Margins may be notched or irregular.
- Color- Often a mixture of black, tan, brown, blue, red, or white.
- Diameter- Usually larger than 6 mm across, but any change in size may be significant.
Risk factors that increase the risk of skin cancer
Anyone can develop a skin tumor. However, people with certain characteristics are at elevated risk.
- Excessive exposure to harmful UV rays: Spending too much time in the sun can damage the DNA in skin cells and increase the risk of skin cancer, especially if your skin isn't protected by sunscreen. Tanning, including exposure to tanning lamps and beds, can spike your risk of disease.
- High-altitude or sunny climates: Individuals living in warm, sunny climates are exposed to more sunlight compared to individuals living in colder climates. Living in higher altitude areas exposes you to more deleterious rays (since the sunlight is strongest), thus boosting the chances of skin cancer.
- Light-colored skin: Skin cancer affects individuals of all skin tones (yes, even darker skin!). If you have fair skin (less melanin), red or blond hair, blue eyes, or freckles, then you are much more likely to develop skin cancer. Having less melanin in your skin offers less defence against the dangerous ultraviolet rays.
- History of sunburns: If you had one or more blistering sunburns as a teenager, then your chances of suffering from skin tumor as an adult is raised.
- Moles: Individuals with more moles or abnormal/atypical moles called dysplastic nevi are at increased risk of skin tumors. These moles that have irregular shape and color and are generally larger compared to the normal moles are more likely to become cancerous.
- Precancerous skin growths/lesions: Having skin lesions such as actinic keratoses can make you more vulnerable to get cancer of the skin. These precancerous skin lesions range in color from brown to dark pink, usually appear as rough scaly patches, and can be important warning signs for skin cancer that should not be ignored.
- Exposure to radiation: Individuals who received radiation therapy to treat other tumors like head and neck cancer may have greater chances of developing skin cancer, particularly basal cell carcinoma.
- Family history of skin tumor: If one of your parents or a sibling has/had been diagnosed with a skin tumor, you are more vulnerable to get cancer of the skin.
- Weakened immune system: Individuals with the suppressed immune system (such as HIV/AIDS patients and those taking immunosuppressive drugs following an organ transplant) have a higher chance of getting skin cancer.
- Smoking: If you smoke excessively, you are more susceptible to get squamous cell skin cancer of the lips. Smoking is not a known risk factor for melanoma or basal cell carcinoma.
- Chemical exposure: Exposure to certain substances, such as arsenic can increase your likelihood of developing skin cancer. In addition, paraffin, coal tar, and certain types of petroleum products may also put you at risk.
Tips to prevent or reduce skin cancer risk
Excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays wreaks havoc on the skin and is the prominent cause of skin cancer. So, minimize the risk of skin cancer by limiting or avoiding exposure to the deleterious ultraviolet radiations by following the below tips:
- Avoid or limit direct exposure to the sun
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a good SPF and don’t forget to reapply every 2 hours
- Wear sun-protective clothing that covers your exposed areas such as arms and legs
- Avoid tanning beds
- Use UV-blocking sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat
- Seek shade when appropriate
- Adopt a healthy diet. Include antioxidant-rich food in your diet as they fight off the dangerous free radicals in your body
- Develop a habit of examining your skin regularly
- Get yearly skin cancer screening with a dermatologist
Checking your skin for suspicious changes can aid in finding out skin cancer at its earliest stages. Early detection of skin cancer, through examination of skin and regular monitoring of moles helps to seek successful treatment for skin cancer and reduce complications and recurrence in future.
Your skin is as unique as you are. Performing a self-examination of your skin (from head to toe) once a month is extremely beneficial. Use mirrors as needed for examining your back and other hard-to-see places, or request a family member or partner to assist you.
If your skin starts forming a spot that doesn’t look like anything else and it’s not getting better, it’s growing or spreading to other areas of the body, or it is acting differently compared to your other moles, pay closer attention to it and get it examined.
Stay vigilant, as skin cancer is treatable if you catch it early. Various skin cancer treatments are available. Consult a doctor if you witness any unusual alterations in your skin that disturb you.
Also read, Skin cancer myths you should know