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Everything You Need to Know About Skin Cancer

Comprehensive insights into skin cancer, its types, prevention, and treatment.

  • 12 Sep 2023
  • 5 min read
  • 62 views

With skin being the largest organ of our body, it’s important to ensure it's well cared for. Your skin provides a protective barrier from the outside world, and nourishing and safeguarding it can help prevent serious health consequences such as sunburns or even skin cancer. Skin cancer is quite common and something we all must be aware of. It is a prevalent condition that develops from the abnormal growth of skin cells. Understanding its types, stages, symptoms, causes, prevention, treatment, and outlook is essential to promote awareness and ensure early detection and effective management. In this quick guide, we’ll cover the ins and outs of skin cancer, from types to treatments. Let’s dive in and get you informed!

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is characterised by the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. People develop this condition due to damage to the DNA within skin cells, and is often caused by harsh exposure to UV rays in daylight from the sun. The most prevalent types of skin cancer include basal cell cancer, squamous cell cancer, and melanoma. While the first two are more common and have a high cure rate if detected, melanoma is more aggressive and can spread to other body parts if not addressed promptly. Let’s explore more about the types and causes in the sections to come.

 

Types of skin cancer

There are several types of skin cancer, each with distinct characteristics, causes, and treatment approaches. Let's take a close look at the most common types of cancer.

  1. Basal Cell Carcinoma, or BCC, is the most common form of skin cancer. It typically develops in areas frequently exposed to the sun. For instance, the face, neck, and hands. BCC often appears as a raised, pearly bump or a sore that doesn't heal. While it rarely spreads to other body parts, early treatment is essential to prevent damage to surrounding tissues.
  2. Squamous Cell Carcinoma, or SCC, also often develops in sun-exposed areas and can appear as a scaly, red patch or a raised growth with a crusted surface. It has a higher potential to spread to other body areas than BCC. Timely diagnosis and treatment are essential for you to prevent the cancer from advancing.

  3. Melanoma affects the melanocytes (cells that give skin its colour), and is the most severe type of skin cancer. This is because it can reemerge from existing moles or appear as new, abnormal growths and can spread rapidly to other body parts if not detected early. Melanomas often exhibit irregular borders, uneven colouring, and changes in size and shape.

  4. Actinic Keratosis is not a form of skin cancer but a pre-cancerous growth that can develop into SCC if left untreated. It appears as rough, scaly patches on sun-exposed areas and requires medical attention to prevent progression.

  5. Merkel Cell Carcinoma is an uncommon and aggressive type of skin cancer that develops from Merkel cells in the skin. It usually appears as firm, shiny nodules on the head, neck, and limbs. Early detection and treatment are vital due to their potential to spread rapidly.

  6. Cutaneous Lymphoma is a type of skin cancer originating in the lymphocytes and can manifest as red, itchy patches or plaques on the skin. It often presents as mycosis fungoides or Sézary syndrome and may require specialised treatment.


Stages of skin cancer

Doctors break cancer down into stages to figure out the right way to approach it. Let’s learn about each stage:

1.    Stage 0: This early stage skin cancer is present just at the skin's surface, not causing much trouble. Doctors call this "in situ," meaning it's stuck where it started and is very treatable.

2.    Stage I: The cancer's gotten a bit thicker, but it's still sticking to its site of origin. It might have made a little ulcer on the skin, but it's not invading other parts yet. No trips to nearby lymph nodes or other parts of the body.

3.    Stage III: This is a much more serious. The cancer's grown thicker, maybe even formed an ulcer, but it's still not moving to other lymph nodes or distant places.

4.    Stage III: The cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, but it's not yet moved to far-off body parts. Treatment usually involves a combination of processes, like surgery, radiation, and sometimes chemotherapy.

5.    Stage IV: The cancer has gone beyond its initial spot and invades other organs or faraway lymph nodes. Depending on the situation, treatment at this stage gets more complex and might include surgery, radiation, targeted therapies, immunotherapy, and even chemotherapy.

Doctors assess these stages through exams, scans, and sometimes by checking lymph nodes or other affected areas. And remember, catching skin cancer at an early stage is extremely helpful for the most successful treatment. Regular skin checks and wearing sunscreen are like your power-ups to keep the game in your favour.

Symptoms of skin cancer

So, you may be wondering, “What are the symptoms of skin cancer?” Let's talk about the signs your skin might send you about potential skin cancer.

  • First off, keep an eye out for new spots that suddenly appear and don't seem to be going anywhere. These could be anything from a bump, a mole, or a patch that's a different colour than the rest of your skin.
  • Second, if you've got a mole or spot that's been around for a while and suddenly decides to transform, it's worth checking out. Changes in size, shape, colour, or texture are red flags that shouldn't be ignored.
  • Third, let's talk about itching, bleeding, or crusting. If a spot won't stop itching, or if it's bleeding or crusting over, that's definitely a signal that something may not be quite right.

Also read:

Causes of skin cancer 

Let's dive into what could be behind the scenes causing skin cancer.

  • Sun is one of the big players among the skin cancer causes. Its powerful UV rays can damage your skin's DNA, making it more prone to forming cancer cells. So, if you're basking in the sun, make sure you have proper protection like sunscreen, hats, and shades.
  • People with lighter skin tones are at a higher risk of skin cancer. It's not about favouritism – it's just that fair skin has less melanin, which is a skin pigment and a natural protection against the sun's UV rays. So, it's extra important for those with paler skin to be extra cautious in the sun.
  • Cancer genes are also a prominent cause of skin cancer. If someone in your family tree has had skin cancer, you might also be at a slightly higher risk of getting it yourself.
  • Age is another factor. As you get older, your skin has been exposed to more sun over time, which can increase your risk of skin cancer.

But don't let this all stress you out. Being aware of these causes is the first step to protecting your skin. So, wear sunscreen and a hat when you step out in the sun, and watch your skin for any changes.

 

How is skin cancer treated?

The approach to treating skin cancer depends on the type, size, and cancer stage. Surgical procedures like excisions or Mohs surgery can cut out the cancerous tissue in minor cases. If it's more stubborn, radiation therapy might be employed to zap those cells with targeted radiation.

When the cancerous cells have spread deeper or wider, chemotherapy or targeted therapy could be on the cards. These treatments use drugs to attack cancer cells directly or interfere with their growth. And if the cancer is too resilient, immunotherapy might be brought in, boosting your immune system's power to destroy those cells.

Remember, treatment plans are tailored to each individual. So, what works for one might not be the same for another. Consulting with a medical professional is key to choosing the right strategy for your skin cancer battle.

 

Prevention against skin cancer

Here are some preventive measures that you must use against skin cancer:

  • Sun Protection

Cover up with clothing, including wide-brimmed hats and UV-blocking sunglasses, to shield your skin from harmful UV rays.

  • Sunscreen

Apply a good quality broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to all areas of your skin that are exposed to the sun, even if it appears cloudy.

  • Limit Sun Exposure

Avoid direct sunlight during peak hours, usually 12 PM to 4 PM, which is when when UV rays are strongest.

  • Tanning Beds

Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps, which emit harmful UV radiation.

  • Seek Shade

Stay in the shade when outdoors as much as possible, especially during midday hours.

  • Protect Children

Keep babies under 6 months old out of direct sunlight as this can be incredibly harsh for young skin, and use protective clothing and sunscreen on older children.

  • Stay Hydrated

Drink plenty of water to keep your skin healthy and hydrated.

  • Healthy Lifestyle

Maintain a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and avoid smoking to support overall skin health.

  • Regular Checkups

Visit a dermatologist for regular skin checkups, especially if you have a family history of skin cancer or other risk factors.

 

Outlook towards skin cancer

The outlook for individuals diagnosed with skin cancer is generally positive, particularly when it is detected and treated in its early stages. Many cases of skin cancer, particularly basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, can be effectively treated with relatively minor procedures. These procedures often completely remove cancer without causing significant disruptions to daily life.

Melanoma, a more aggressive form of skin cancer, has a high cure rate when detected early. Advances in medical science and treatment processes have significantly improved melanoma patients' prognoses. However, it's important to note that the outcome depends on various factors, including the type of skin cancer, its stage at diagnosis, and the individual's overall health.

Regular self-examinations, dermatologist skin screenings, and following preventive measures are essential can significantly lower the risk of developing skin cancer. Staying informed about skin cancer's signs, symptoms, and risk factors empowers individuals to take proactive steps for early detection and effective treatment, resulting in better outcomes and improved overall skin health. We advise you consult a medical professional for an accurate diagnosis and personalised guidance if you have concerns about skin changes or potential skin cancer.

Conclusion

Staying informed about cancer types, symptoms, and treatment options is vital. Health insurance, especially cancer-specific coverage, can ease the financial strain of treatment. Prioritising prevention, early detection, and securing comprehensive health insurance ensures access to quality care and peace of mind, supporting a healthier, more worry-free life journey.

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