All you need to Know about Skin Cancer

Skin Cancer

Every year, millions of people expose their bare skins to sunlight in order to get a beautiful tan. However, exposure to ultraviolet rays also increases the risk of developing skin cancer. In fact, according to statistics published by the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the leading form of cancer in the US. In addition, cases of melanoma in young women have increased by 800% since 1970. Meanwhile, for young men, the increase is 400% during the same period. People who use tanning beds also increase the risk of developing melanoma. As such, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies tanning devices under cancer causing agents.

Skin cancers originate in the cells of the skin when unrepaired DNA damage triggers a genetic mutation that causes cells to rapidly multiply and form a malignant tumor. Ninety percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers and most melanomas are the direct result of exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning booths, and the ACS says the numbers are increasing.

Most common skin cancers you should know about are mentioned blow:

Actinic keratoses (AK)

The most common precancerous skin condition is AK, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. It affects more than 58 million Americans, tending to appear in people with fair skin over age 40 who have been exposed to the sun for years. It's often found on the head, neck, hands and forearms, areas that often go uncovered.

Rough patches or itching and burning skin, growths that can be painful when rubbed, and dry lips may be warning signs. If you have any of these symptoms, make an appointment with a dermatologist, so the condition can be treated before it becomes cancerous.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)

BCC, the most common type of skin cancer, also tends to develop after years of exposure to the sun or other sources of ultraviolet radiation. It's commonly found on the head, neck and arms but can develop anywhere. It rarely spreads to other parts of the body, but if left untreated can invade the bone and other tissue under the skin, causing damage and disfigurement.

Almost all BCC can be cured, especially when found early and treated. BCC may look like a flesh-colored, pearl-like bump or pinkish patch of skin

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)

SCC is the second-most-common skin cancer after BCC. Like BCC, people with light skin are more susceptible, but everyone needs to be cautious. It too tends to form on areas of the skin — ears, face, neck, arms, chest, back — that are exposed to the sun and other sources of ultraviolet radiation.

Although uncommon, SCC can grow into deeper areas of the skin and spread to other parts of the body, but like BCC, if found and treated early, it is highly curable. Alexis says SCC can look like a reddish firm bump or patch that has a rough, scaly surface, or a persistent sore that may heal and then reappear.



This type of cancer forms in the cells of the skin that produce color (melanocytes). When you expose your skin to ultraviolet rays, the mentioned cells essentially make more pigment. As a result, your skin darkens or tans. Melanoma can develop on any part of the body. However, it usually tends to form on the legs and arms. In some cases, melanoma can also form in your eye tissues (intraocular melanoma). Risk factors for developing melanoma include:

• Exposure to natural or artificial ultraviolet rays (accounts for 80 percent of all melanomas). • Age (tends to affect older people).

• Ethnicity (more prevalent in Caucasians).

• History of sunburns.

• Family history of developing moles.

You should always check your skin for any abnormal growth, as well as the appearance of moles. By using the ABCDE rule (A stands for asymmetry, B for border irregularity, C for color, D for diameter, and E for Evolution), you should be able to spot and evaluate nearly every unusual change on your skin. Some of the early warning signs that should raise a red flag include changes in skin consistency, elevation, sensation, and surface texture. If you do not detect the early signs, late symptoms may include painful lesions, bleeding moles, or gray skin.


What Are the Treatment Options for Skin Cancer?

Most skin cancers are detected and cured before they spread. Melanoma that has spread to other organs presents the greatest treatment challenge.

Standard treatments for localized basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are safe and effective. Small tumors can be surgically excised, removed with a scraping tool (curette) and then cauterized, frozen with liquid nitrogen, or killed with low-dose radiation. Applying an ointment containing a chemotherapeutic agent called 5-fluorouracil -- or an immune response modifier called imiquimod -- to a superficial tumor for several weeks may also work. Larger localized tumors are removed surgically.

In rare cases where basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma has begun to spread beyond the skin, tumors are removed surgically and patients are treated with chemotherapy and radiation. Sometimes disfiguring or metastatic (spreading) basal cell skin cancers that are not able to be treated by surgery or radiation are treated with a once a day pill called vismodegib (Everidge).

Melanoma tumors must be removed surgically, preferably before they spread beyond the skin into other organs. The surgeon removes the tumor fully, along with a safe margin of surrounding tissue. There is controversy whether removing nearby lymph nodes is valuable in certain cases. Neither radiation nor chemotherapy will cure advanced melanoma, but either treatment may slow the disease and relieve symptoms. Chemotherapy, sometimes in combination with immunotherapy -- using drugs like interferon-alpha and interleukin-2-- is generally preferred. If melanoma spreads to the brain, radiation is used to slow the growth and control symptoms.

Immunotherapy is a relatively new field of cancer treatment that attempts to target and kill cancer cells by manipulating the body's immune system. Some of the most promising developments in the field of immunotherapy have sprung from efforts to cure advanced melanoma. Some researchers are treating advanced cases with vaccines, while others have used drugs such as interferon, interleukin-2, ipilimumab (Yervoy), nivolumab (Opdivo) or pembrolizumab (Keytruda) in an effort to stimulate immune cells into attacking melanoma cells more aggressively. Genetic manipulation of melanoma tumors may make them more vulnerable to attack by the immune system. Each of these experimental treatment approaches aims to immunize a patient's body against its own cancer -- something the body cannot do naturally.

There are also drugs that target specific gene changes within normal cells that cause them to become cancerous. Often called targeted therapy, these drugs include dabrafenib (Tafinlar), trametinib (Mekinist), and vemurafenib (Zelboraf).

People who have had skin cancer once are at risk for getting it again. Anyone who has been treated for skin cancer of any kind should have a checkup at least once a year. About 20% of skin cancer patients experience recurrence, usually within the first two years after diagnosis.


Alternative and Complementary Therapies for Skin Cancer

Once skin cancer is diagnosed, the only acceptable treatment is medical care. Alternative approaches may be useful in cancer prevention and in combating nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and headaches from chemotherapy, radiation, or immunotherapy used to treat advanced skin cancer. Be sure to discuss any alternative treatments you are considering using with your cancer doctor.

Nutrition and Diet for Skin Cancer

Skin experts know that the mineral zinc and the antioxidant vitamins A (beta-carotene), C, and E can help repair damaged body tissue and promote healthy skin. Now, researchers are trying to determine whether these and other nutrients might protect skin from the harmful effects of sunlight. To test the theory, selected skin cancer patients are given experimental supplements of these vitamins in the hope of preventing cancer recurrence. As of now, there is no convincing evidence that these agents are helpful.


webmd, molemap.co.nz, health.com, chicagotribune.com

Publish Date: 2017 Feb 13

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