Many cancers grow on areas of your skin, which you easily notice. Frequent examinations on your skin may tell whether there have been changes on moles or new, unusual marks on your skin that seem ominous. If you see any of these, you should discuss them with a dermatologist (skin doctor) or any other qualified health attendant who will examine your skin to settle on a valid diagnosis.
In many instances, a tiny pimple, rash, mole, and dark or light patches of pigmentation are the earliest indications of skin cancers. Sometimes these spots bruise and easily bleed. As the stage of cancer progresses, the defect can exponentially grow deeper into the skin. Without the help of a doctor, it would be hard to tell apart other skin conditions from skin cancer.
Types of skin cancers
Skin is made up of an aggregation of different cells, each with varying functions. Merkel cells are responsible for touch sensation; round basal cells grow upwards from below to replace lost squamous cells, while melanocytes tan skin when in sunlight. Skin cancers arise when skin cells become damaged.
In order to avoid debilitating diseases, all skin cancers should be assessed and treated accordingly. There are many treatment modalities based on the type of cancer. Common types of skin cancer include:
Basal cell carcinoma
Out of the approximately 3 million incidences of skin cancer annually, basal cell carcinoma account for 80%. Basal (from “base”) cancers develop from the lowest part of the epidermis.
Basal cell carcinomas often occur in areas of the body that are exposed to sunlight, such as the head, neck, and arms. Because these tumors are not aggressive, grow slowly, and rarely invade other nearby or distant tissues, metastasis only happens when left untreated.
Even in cases of successful treatment and remission, almost 50% of patients will have a recurring basal cell carcinoma on the same spot of the origin or another spot.
Recurrent basal cell carcinoma
Patients who had basal cell cancer are at risk of recurrence, and as many as half of all patients will experience this phenomenon within five years of the first diagnosis.
After completing the treatment regimen, it is advised you perform occasional skin self-examinations to identify new manifestations such as rashes, unusual growths, or abnormal changes in skin color of existing or new spots. Because this class of cancer grows in areas that receive much sunlight, it will be easy to spot any changes. However, there are reported cases of basal cell carcinomas in areas that don’t get a lot of sun exposure. Regular visits to a dermatologist or oncologist (cancer specialist doctor) will eliminate any doubts you have, which may be good or bad news!
Squamous cell carcinoma
With more than 20% new cases each year, squamous cell carcinoma is the second most diagnosed cancer in non-melanoma skin cancers. This is a type of cancer that grows from squamous cells, cells that make up your epidermis, the external layer of skin.
While they may also be found in areas that are not always exposed to skin, squamous cell carcinoma is more common in exposed areas such as the neck, face, ears, and the back of the hand. They occasionally grow on scars or genital area. Squamous cell cancers are non-aggressive and don’t always metastasize. However, they carry a higher risk of invading subcutaneous skin tissue (the fatty layer beneath the skin) and reach deeper tissues compared with basal cell carcinomas.
Melanoma is a cancer of melanocytes, the skin cells that produce the brown pigment called melanin. Melanocytes darken when in sunlight to protect your skin and deeper tissues from the harmful effects of UV rays from sunlight.
Merkel cell carcinoma
Merkel cells enable us to fell the things we touch because they are intermingled with nerve fibers. When these cells transform to become cancerous, the result is a Merkel cell melanoma. This is the most hard-hitting skin cancer and is common in areas exposed to sunlight, especially the scalp and face. Risk factors to its development include age above 50 and having a weakened immune system. If left untreated, it can spread to the brain, lungs, liver, or bones.
Rare skin cancers
There are some rare skin cancers such as:
- Kaposi sarcoma (KS)is caused by the human herpesvirus 8, aka Kaposi sarcoma-associated herpes virus. Its common manifestation is dark lesions on the skin. Apart from affecting the skin, it can also occur on the digestive tract or lungs. Kaposi sarcoma is common in patients with a compromised immune system due to chronic diseases and patients infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
- Actinic keratosisis not cancer in itself but is a sign of developing squamous cell carcinoma. These lesions appear on areas exposed to sunlight and appear as clusters, areas of discoloration, or scaly skin due to overgrowth of keratin (a protein found in hair and nails).
- Lymphoma of the skin, or cutaneous lymphoma, is a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Lymphomas are tumors that originate from lymph nodes; tiny glands found all over your body that produces disease-fighting cells called lymphocytes. However, lymphomas can arise from other lymphoid tissue such as skin, bone marrow, and spleen. Skin lymphomas are rare and manifest as bumps or rashes on the skin.
- Keratoacanthoma, unlike many skin cancers, they are benign, non-cancerous and, at times, resolve on their own. If a keratoacanthoma is left unchecked, it is grouped the same as squamous cell cancers.
Checking for skin cancer symptoms
The most important step in detecting cancers is to know your skin. A regular examination can identify natural and normal marks on your skin and easily tell them apart from cancerous and precancerous growths. Any new symptom should be discussed with your doctor or dermatologist.
Just because many skin tumors grow in areas that receive sunlight doesn’t mean they cannot be found elsewhere. Examine all areas of your skin; face, eyes, arms, nails, palms, leg, soles, genitals, and trunk, and look for telltale signs of skin cancer.