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Skin Cancer Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

What causes skin cancer?

Much of the damage to your skin cells results from ultraviolet radiation found in sunlight and in the lights used in tanning beds. Many people still get too much exposure to the sun even though nine out of every ten skin cancers, are caused by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation.

Skin cancer occurs when irreversible damage (mutations) happens in the skin cells. These damages cause the skin cells to grow out of control and form a mass of cancer cells.

However, skin cancer can also occur on areas of your skin not exposed to sunlight. This indicates that other factors may contribute to your risk of skin cancer, such as being exposed to toxic substances (e.g. sun-sensitizing medications) or having a condition that weakens your immune system.


What are the most common types of skin cancer?

There are three major types of skin cancer the basal cell carcinoma, the squamous cell carcinoma and the melanoma.

Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma usually occur in sun-exposed areas of your body, such as your neck, face hands or ears. Usually this tumor entities grow locally without distant metastasis.

Melanoma is a serious form of skin cancer it can develop anywhere on your body, in otherwise normal skin or in an existing mole that becomes cancerous. Melanoma is less common than basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, but it is more dangerous because of its ability to spread to other organs.


What is the risk of melanoma coming back in the same area?

Recurrence of melanoma can happen if cancer cells are left behind after treatment.

This can be months or years later. Single melanoma cells are too small to be seen with the naked eye or on scans.

Among all people with melanoma of the skin, from the time of initial diagnosis, the 5-year survival is 93%. Overall survival at 5 years depends on the thickness of the primary melanoma, whether the lymph nodes are involved, and whether there is spread of melanoma to distant sites


What methods and products should one use to protect the skin?

Some skin cancers are preventable. Here are some skin cancer prevention tips:

  • Avoid the sun during the middle of the day.
  • Wear sunscreen year-round. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30, even on cloudy days.
  • Wear protective clothing, cover your skin with dark, tightly woven clothing that covers your arms and legs, and a broad-brimmed hat. Don’t forget sunglasses.
  • Avoid tanning beds.
  • Be aware of sun-sensitizing medications.Some common prescription and over-the-counter drugs, including antibiotics, can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight.


What are the skin cancer treatment options?

Treatment options for skin cancer will vary, depending on the type of cancer (histology), size of the lesion, depth and location of the skin cancer tumor. Frequently used treatment option can include freezing (liquid nitrogen), excisional surgery, curettage, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, photodynamic therapy and biological treatment options such as immune therapy. Excisional surgery may be appropriate for any type of skin cancer and is often a good solution, all the cancerous tissue and a surrounding margin of healthy skin will be cut out.


When is immunotherapy an option?

For cancers limited to the top layer of skin, topical anti-cancer agents may be applied directly to the skin with good results. Systemic Immunotherapy can be used to treat melanomas that can’t be removed by surgery or that have spread to other parts of the body. It might also be used for less advanced melanomas after surgery (as an adjuvant treatment) in some situations, to try to lower the risk of the melanoma coming back.

Immunotherapy per se is the use of medicines to stimulate a person’s own immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells more effectively. Melanoma cells sometimes use escape strategies to avoid being attacked by the immune system, immunotherapy drugs help to restore the immune response against melanoma cells.


When is surgery needed?

For basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma some treatment option may exist depending on the stage of the tumor. For melanoma excisional surgery of the primary tumor is mandatory. Excision of the primary lesion will ensure conclusive histological analysis of the melanoma tissue (including Breslow index, Clark level as well as mutation rate of the lesion). This information is highly relevant to determine how serious the cancer is and how best to treat it.


How do you conduct a skin exam? How often should you check your skin for abnormalities?

If you have any risk factors (such as a history of skin cancer yourself or in your family, sunburns, or regular increased sun exposure), you should be getting a skin cancer screening every 6 to 12 months. If you are low-risk, you can go for yearly checks or go every couple of years.

No matter what, you should keep an eye out by giving yourself skin checks using the ABCDE method for moles:  asymmetry (A), changes in border (B), changes in color (C), changes in diameter (D), or any evolving moles (E).

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