Skin Cancer | Early Signs, Symptoms & Some Precautions

Basically, unlike the Breast Cancer (forms in the cells of the breasts) Skin Cancer is the abnormal growth of skin cells. And most often, it develops on skin exposed to the sun. But, this common form of cancer can also occur on areas of your skin not ordinarily exposed to sunlight.

Of course, Yes! You can reduce your risk of getting skin cancer by limiting or avoiding exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Not forgetting, checking your skin for suspicious changes can help detect skin cancer at its earliest stages. Early detection of skin cancer gives you the greatest chance for successful skin cancer treatment.

Skin Cancer

As an example, much of the damage to skin cell DNA results from ultraviolet (UV) radiation found in sunlight and in the lights used in tanning beds.

But, sun exposure doesn’t explain skin cancers that develop on skin not ordinarily exposed to sunlight. This indicates that other factors may contribute to your risk of skin cancer.

Such as being exposed to toxic substances or having a condition that weakens your immune system.

What is Skin Cancer?

Primarily, skin cancer develops in areas of the skin exposed to the sun. Including the scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms and hands, and on the legs in women.

But, it can also form on areas that rarely see the light of day. For example, your palms, beneath your fingernails or toenails, and your genital area.

In general, there are three major types of skin cancer namely;

  • basal cell carcinoma,
  • squamous cell carcinoma,
  • melanoma, and
  • others!
Basal Cell Carcinoma

Above all, Basal Cell Carcinoma is a type of skin cancer that begins in the basal cells. Whereby, Basal Cells are a type of cells within the skin that produces new skin cells as old ones die off.

And often, basal cell carcinoma appears as a slightly transparent bump on the skin, though it can take other forms. It occurs most often on areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun. Such as your head and neck.

Most basal cell carcinomas are thought to be caused by long-term exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight. Avoiding the sun and using sunscreen may help protect against basal cell carcinoma.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Notably, Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common form of skin cancer. It’s usually found on areas of the body damaged by UV rays from the sun or tanning beds.

In general, sun-exposed skin includes the head, neck, chest, upper back, ears, lips, arms, legs, and hands.

SCC is fairly slow-growing skin cancer. Unlike other types of skin cancer, it can spread to the tissues, bones, and nearby lymph nodes, where it may become hard to treat. When caught early, it’s easy to treat.

Melanoma

Uniquely, Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, develops in the cells (melanocytes) that produce melanin — the pigment that gives your skin its color.

But, Melanoma can also form in your eyes and, rarely, in internal organs, such as your intestines. The exact cause of all melanomas isn’t clear, but exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or tanning lamps and beds increases your risk of developing melanoma.

The less Commonly known Types 

As can be seen, limiting your exposure to UV radiation can help reduce your risk of melanoma. The risk of melanoma seems to be increasing in people under 40, especially women.

So, knowing the warning signs of skin cancer can help ensure that cancerous changes are detected. And eventually, treated before cancer has spread. Melanoma can be treated successfully if it is detected early.

As a matter of fact, there are also other less common types of skin cancer that you should know.

Kaposi Sarcoma

According to the research study on Kaposi Sarcoma, it’s a rare form of skin cancer that develops in the skin’s blood vessels. In the end, it causes red or purple patches on the skin or mucous membranes.

Kaposi sarcoma mainly occurs in people with weakened immune systems, such as people with AIDS, and in people taking medications that suppress their natural immunity, such as people who’ve undergone organ transplants.

Other people with an increased risk of Kaposi sarcoma include young men living in Africa or older men of Italian or Eastern European Jewish heritage.

Merkel Cell Carcinoma

As for the Merkel Cell Carcinoma case study, it causes firm, shiny nodules that occur on or just beneath the skin and in hair follicles.

Merkel cell carcinoma is most often found on the head, neck, and trunk.

Sebaceous Gland Carcinoma

From the Sebaceous Gland Carcinoma research, this uncommon and aggressive cancer originates in the oil glands in the skin.

All in all, the sebaceous gland carcinomas — which usually appear as hard, painless nodules — can develop anywhere.

But, most occur on the eyelid, where they’re frequently mistaken for other eyelid problems.

How does Skin Cancer occur?

Skin cancer affects people of all skin tones, including those with darker complexions.

For example, when melanoma occurs in people with dark skin tones, it’s more likely to occur in areas not normally exposed to the sun, such as the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

Skin Cancer
An Introduction to how Skin Cancer occurs – Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

To enumerate, skin cancer occurs when errors (mutations) occur in the DNA of skin cells. The mutations cause the cells to grow out of control and form a mass of cancer cells.

Skin cancer begins in your skin’s top layer — the epidermis. The epidermis is a thin layer that provides a protective cover of skin cells that your body continually sheds.

The epidermis contains three main types of cells:
  • Squamous cells lie just below the outer surface and function as the skin’s inner lining.
  • Basal cells, which produce new skin cells, sit beneath the squamous cells.
  • Melanocytes — which produce melanin, the pigment that gives skin its normal color — are located in the lower part of your epidermis. Melanocytes produce more melanin when you’re in the sun to help protect the deeper layers of your skin.

Where your skin cancer begins determines its type and your treatment options. Read and learn also more about What are the Forms of UV Radiation?

What are the Signs & Symptoms of  Skin Cancer?

Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice any changes to your skin that worry you.

Bearing in mind, not all skin changes are caused by skin cancer. Your doctor will investigate your skin changes to determine a cause.

Skin Cancer

The sooner a skin cancer is identified and treated, the better your chance of avoiding surgery or, in the case of a serious melanoma or other skin cancer, potential disfigurement or even death.

It is also a good idea to talk to your doctor about your level of risk and for advice on early detection.

Become familiar with the look of your skin, so you pick up any changes that might suggest a skin cancer.

Below are the general signs and symptoms;

Basal cell carcinoma signs and symptoms

In reality, basal cell carcinoma usually occurs in sun-exposed areas of your body, such as your neck or face.

Basal cell carcinoma may appear as:

  • A pearly or waxy bump
  • A flat, flesh-colored or brown scar-like lesion
  • Bleeding or scabbing sore that heals and returns
Squamous cell carcinoma signs and symptoms

Most often, squamous cell carcinoma occurs in sun-exposed areas of your body, such as your face, ears, and hands.

People with darker skin are more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma on areas that aren’t often exposed to the sun.

Squamous cell carcinoma may appear as:

  • A firm, red nodule,
  • Or even as a flat lesion with a scaly, and crusted surface.
Melanoma signs and symptoms

On one hand, Melanoma can develop anywhere on your body, in otherwise normal skin or in an existing mole that becomes cancerous. While on the other hand, it most often appears on the face or the trunk of affected men.

In women, this type of cancer most often develops on the lower legs. In both men and women, melanoma can occur on skin that hasn’t been exposed to the sun. So, always remember, it can affect people of any skin tone.

In people with darker skin tones, melanoma tends to occur on the palms or soles, or under the fingernails or toenails.

Melanoma signs include:
  • A large brownish spot with darker speckles
  • A mole that changes in color, size or feels or that bleeds
  • A small lesion with an irregular border and portions that appear red, pink, white, blue or blue-black
  • A painful lesion that itches or burns
  • Dark lesions on your palms, soles, fingertips or toes, or on mucous membranes lining your mouth, nose, vagina or anus

How do I Prevent Skin Cancer?

To simply put, most of the skin cancer diseases are preventable.

However, to protect yourself, please follow the skin cancer prevention tips below.

1. Avoid the sun during the middle of the day

For many people in North America, the sun’s rays are strongest between about 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Schedule outdoor activities for other times of the day, even in winter or when the sky is cloudy.

You absorb UV radiation year-round, and clouds offer little protection from damaging rays. Avoiding the sun at its strongest helps you avoid sunburns and suntans that cause skin damage and increase your risk of developing skin cancer.

Sun exposure accumulated over time also may cause skin cancer.

2. Wear sunscreen year-round

Sunscreens don’t filter out all harmful UV radiation, especially the radiation that can lead to melanoma. But they play a major role in an overall sun protection program.

Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, even on cloudy days. Apply sunscreen generously, and reapply every two hours — or more often if you’re swimming or perspiring.

Also, use a generous amount of sunscreen on all exposed skin, including your lips, the tips of your ears, and the backs of your hands and neck.

3. Wear protective clothing

Sunscreens don’t provide complete protection from UV rays. So, cover your skin with dark, tightly woven clothing that covers your arms and legs, and a broad-brimmed hat.

After all, it provides more protection than a baseball cap or visor does. Some companies also sell photoprotective clothing. A dermatologist can recommend an appropriate brand.

In addition, don’t forget sunglasses. Look for those that block both types of UV radiation — UVA and UVB rays. Not forgetting, lights used in tanning beds emit UV rays and can increase your risk of skin cancer.

4. Be aware of sun-sensitizing medications

Some common prescription and over-the-counter drugs, including antibiotics, can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight.

Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the side effects of any medications you take. If they increase your sensitivity to sunlight, take extra precautions to stay out of the sun in order to protect your skin.

5. Check your skin regularly and report changes to your doctor

By the same fashion, examine your skin often for new skin growths or changes in existing moles, freckles, bumps and birthmarks.

With the help of mirrors, check your face, neck, ears, and scalp. And equally important, examine your chest and trunk, and the tops and undersides of your arms and hands.

Examine both the front and back of your legs and your feet, including the soles and the spaces between your toes. Also, check your genital area and between your buttocks.

Factors that Increase the Chances

Anyone, regardless of skin color, can get skin cancer. However, having less pigment (melanin) in your skin provides less protection from damaging UV radiation.

If you have blond or red hair and light-colored eyes, and you freckle or sunburn easily, you’re much more likely to develop skin cancer than is a person with darker skin.

Also, having had one or more blistering sunburns as a child or teenager increases your risk of developing skin cancer as an adult.

Not to mention, sunburns in adulthood also are a risk factor. Below are more risk factors;

Excessive sun or radiation exposure

Anyone who spends considerable time in the sun may develop skin cancer, especially if the skin isn’t protected by sunscreen or clothing.

Tanning, including exposure to tanning lamps and beds, also puts you at risk. A tan is your skin’s injury response to excessive UV radiation.

People who received radiation treatment for skin conditions such as eczema and acne may have an increased risk of skin cancer, particularly basal cell carcinoma.

Sunny or high-altitude climates

People who live in sunny, warm climates are exposed to more sunlight than are people who live in colder climates.

Living at higher elevations, where the sunlight is strongest, also exposes you to more radiation.

Abnormal skin moles

People who have many moles or abnormal moles called dysplastic nevi are at increased risk of skin cancer.

These abnormal moles — which look irregular and are generally larger than normal moles — are more likely than others to become cancerous. If you have a history of abnormal moles, watch them regularly for changes.

Precancerous skin lesions

Having skin lesions known as actinic keratoses can increase your risk of developing skin cancer.

These precancerous skin growths typically appear as rough, scaly patches that range in color from brown to dark pink. They’re most common on the face, head, and hands of fair-skinned people whose skin has been sun-damaged.

A personal or family skin cancer history 

First, if one of your parents or a sibling has had skin cancer, you may have an increased risk of the disease.

Then again, if you developed skin cancer once, you’re at risk of developing it again.

A weak immune system

People with weakened immune systems have a greater risk of developing skin cancer.

This includes people living with HIV/AIDS and those taking immunosuppressant drugs after an organ transplant.

Finally, exposure to certain substances, such as arsenic, may increase your risk of skin cancer.

Related Sources;

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