All You Need to Know about Skin Cancer – by Dr. Pillay
It is a little known fact that Cancer of the skin is the most common type of cancer, which is why most of us have heard about or probably know someone who has had Skin Cancer.
Living in Africa we are blessed with beautiful sunlight almost the whole year round, this is unfortunately why we should all be concerned about cancer of the skin.
But while most of us have probably heard about the dangers of skin melanoma, many people are not aware that there are various other types of skin cancer that could have potentially devastating effects on our health.
Detected early however, most skin cancers are easily curable. Once should thus always be mindful of the doctrine of prevention, screening, and treatment.
The most important types of skin cancers and their common symptoms are listed below. It is of extreme importance that you visit your dermatologist or plastic surgeon should you experience any of these symptoms associated with the types of cancers below. Again one cannot stress the importance of early detection and treatment.
Types of Skin Cancer
The commonest types of Cancers to affect skin are:
1. Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
This is the most common type of skin cancer, affecting about a 10 million new people each year around the world.
o Exposure to too much of the suns UV rays is the main cause of this type of cancer.
o The lesions usually look like an inflamed open, sore that oozes, it could also look like a scar, shiny lump; or simply a red patch on the skin.
o These types of cancers are rarely fatal and extremely easy for us to treat by surgical removal.
o Because these cancers can grow and cover large surfaces on the skin they can cause major scarring.
o BCC occur mostly in fair-skinned people who do not tan easily as their skin does not have sufficient melanin to protect them from harsh UV rays.
One most sensitive warning sign of a BCC is that of a chronic sore that doesn’t heal over a long period or a lesion that grows rapidly.
2. Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
The second most commonly diagnosed type of skin cancer is the SCC, approximately 1 to 2 Million people being diagnosed each year. SCC is known to affect very top layer of the skin.
o Like BCCs, SCCs are also caused by excessive exposure to the sun.
o This type of cancer however will look like thickened bumps in the skin, which may be lumpy, open or even crusty. They most often have raised rolled edges.
o Also easy to treat and most SCCs are characteristically serious, if we are able to detect and treat them early enough before the cancer cells have the chance to Metastasise (spread) to organs in our body.
o The commonest sites for SCCs to occur are on the typically sun exposed areas; our heads, shoulders and arm,but they are also known to occur on the lobes of the ear and the lower lip.
Very much like BCCs, Squamous cell carcinoma are also characterised by lesions or sores that that won’t heal or lesions that are quickly growing.
These are the least common of the three main skin cancer types, but are the most dreaded type as they are generally the most deadly. If left untreated for too long, Melanomas metastasise beyond the skin and into other parts of the body, and the condition then becomes very serious if not fatal.
o Again this type of cancer is caused by too much exposure to the sun. (spot the trend)
o Melanoma often occur in people who have had a very bad sunburn to the point where the skin has blistered, people who have lot of moles, are fair skinned, and those who have had family members who have had melanoma.
o They usually look like an oddly shaped mole (asymmetrical, irregular borders, different colours (polychromatic), large in diameter, evolving), or a mole that bleeds.
o Melanomes often itch, can be swollen and sore.
o Despite being due to excessive sun exposure Melanomas can occur on any part of the body, even areas that have not been exposed to the sun.
o When detected early they can also be cured by being cut out, but Melanomas are known to be fatal if only diagnosed in the advanced stages.
Malignant skin melanoma is characterized by a rapidly growing lesion that is multi-colored, often with black and pink.
How to Help Prevent All Skin Cancer Types
They may all look a little different, but you can help to reduce your risk of all skin cancer types the same way: by being smart about the sun. Reduce exposure to the sun’s harmful rays by using a high SPF sunscreen, wearing hats and long sleeves, and limiting how much time you spend out in the direct sun.
And make sure you get to know your skin very well. Do a full body check (it helps to engage a partner or friend to look at hard-to-reach areas) every month or so, and make sure your doctor does a skin check once a year. This will increase your chances that any skin changes can be identified and dealt with early. As with any cancer, skin cancer has the best outcome with early diagnosis and treatment.
Follow these skin-cancer prevention tips, and your skin will thank you.