What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer is a blanket term referring to cancers affecting the skin, of which there are three primary types – melanoma, basal cell carcinoma (sometimes called basal skin cancer or “BCC”), and squamous cell carcinoma.
Exposure to UVA and UVB rays from the sun is a leading cause of skin cancer, often causing changes to the skin that includes age spots, brown spots, freckles and moles. As this is the case, most cases can be prevented by practicing sun safety that includes the use of sunscreen, hats and protective clothing, and limiting exposure to the sun during it’s strongest hours.
What are the symptoms of skin cancer?
There can be a number of different signs and symptoms of skin cancer, including a sore or mole that is painful, raised, suddenly abnormal in shape or size, crusty or bleeding.
Ulcers can also be indicative of skin cancer, as can red, scaly patches on the skin and lumps. The type that will present will depend on the type of skin cancer and it’s stage, but a doctor should assess any lesion or change to the skin that does not heal within four weeks.
What causes skin cancer?
Long-term exposure to the sun causes damage to the skin, which in time cause skin cancer to develop. Prolonged sun exposure is often the cause of SCC and basal cell carcinoma, while sunburns are often the cause of melanoma.
Who is at risk of skin cancer?
Individuals who experience high or prolonged rates of sun exposure are at high risk of skin cancers such as melanoma.
This can be from direct sunlight, as well as exposure to UV rays in tanning booths and beds, and other environmental factors such as exposure to radiation or chemicals can also pose a risk. Those who receive UV light treatment for the skin condition psoriasis may also be at a higher risk of developing skin cancer, as are those who have had cancer previously.
Certain individuals are predisposed to cancer due to a family history of the disease, or genetic factors such as being fair skinner. Lifestyle behaviours such as smoking can also increase the risk of cancer developing. In men, the risk of basal cell carcinoma developing is twice as high compared to women, and men are also three times more likely to develop squamous cell cancers.
How does a Dermatologist diagnose skin cancer?
Early detection can happen at home, as patients often notice an abnormality that doesn’t heal and therefore seek help from a professional.
A dermatologist or doctor may conduct a mole mapping procedure, which is essentially a “surveillance programme” measuring the distances between moles along with the shape of the lesions to keep an eye on those who are at higher risk of developing melanoma. If cancer is suspected, a dermatologist may conduct a
dermatoscopy, a procedure during which they will take a closer look at the skin under a microscope.
How does a Dermatologist treat skin cancer?
Treatment options will vary depending on factors such as the type of cancer, the stage of the cancer, a patient’s overall health and preferences along with other factors.
Treatment can range from the use of creams to the removal of the lesions via surgery through to radiotherapy. There are five stages of melanoma skin cancer; Melanoma in situ (the earliest stage during which cancer is restricted to the epidermis), Melanoma Stage 1 (commonly treated by wide excision), Melanoma Stage 2 (treated with wide excision or a biopsy), Melanoma Stage 3 (treated with a combination of surgery and drug treatments) and, Melanoma Stage 4. At the final stage, the cancer will have spread to the lymph nodes, and therefore whether treatment is required will depend on an individual diagnosis.
Where can I get patient support for skin cancer?
- American Academy of Dermatologists
- DermNet New Zealand
- The British Association of Dermatologists
- Cancer Research UK
- British Skin Foundation
These images are kindly provided by DermNetNZ.org for non-commercial use, for the purpose of education and information. The images have not been modified and DermNetNZ do not endorse The London Skin and Hair Clinic. You can find a copy of the license at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/nz/.