Skin Cancer

Diagram showing different skin conditions

Skin cancer is the most common human cancer. It is estimated that over a million new cases occur annually. The skin is the largest organ of the human body, serving as both a protective layer and aesthetic capacity.  Skin cancer refers to several types of malignancies that can occur, including basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and malignant melanoma.

 

  Although the first two types of skin malignancies are usually more treatable and are often described together as nonmelanoma skin cancers (NMSC), melanoma is classified as a separate type of cancer with typically more aggressive behavior and prognosis.

 

Types of Skin Cancer

 

Basal cell skin cancer grows slowly. It usually occurs on areas of the skin that have been in the sun, and it is most common on the face. Basal cell cancer rarely spreads to other parts of the body.

 

Squamous cell skin cancer also occurs on parts of the skin that have been in the sun, but it also may be in places that are not in the sun. Squamous cell cancer sometimes spreads to lymph nodes and organs inside the body.

 

Minor surface skin can cancers care readily treatable by simple surgery, but if the cancer is allowed to grow, it can penetrate through the layers of skin and affect the lymphatic system.  It may also spread to other parts of the body (metastasize).  Skin cancers that are aggressive, recurrent, or located upon ‘high-risk sites’ of the body such as the central face, scalp, ears, or genitalia, may require more advanced surgical approaches such as Moh’s micrographic surgery to attain high cure rates.

 

Signs and Symptoms

 

There are various symptoms of different skin cancer.  These include sores or changes in the skin that do not heal, ulcers in the skin or, discoloring in parts of the skin, and changes in existing moles.

 

Basal cell carcinoma usually looks like a raised, smooth, pearly bump on the sun-exposed skin of the head, neck, or shoulders. Sometimes small blood vessels can be seen within the tumor. Crusting and bleeding in the center of the tumor frequently develop. It is often mistaken for a sore that does not heal.

 

Squamous cell carcinoma is commonly a red, scaling, thickened patch on sun-exposed skin. Ulceration and bleeding may occur. When SCC is not treated, it may develop into a large mass.

 

Most malignant melanomas are brown to black-looking lesions. Signs that might indicate a malignant melanoma include a change in size, shape, color, or elevation of a mole. The appearance of a new mole during adulthood, or new pain, itching, ulceration, or bleeding of an existing mole should be checked.

 

Skin cancer is usually not painful but can sometimes be.  Checking your skin for new growths or other changes is advisable, but always remember that changes in the skin are not a sure sign of skin cancer. Still, you have to let your doctor examine any changes to your skin right away for proper diagnosis and treatment of skin problems.