What are the causes and symptoms of Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. These abnormal cells have the ability to spread from the skin to other tissues and organs. There are different types of skin cancers such as Basal cell carcinoma, Squamous cell carcinoma, and Melanoma (read more).

Causes of Skin Cancer

The primary cause of skin cancer is overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light produced by the sun. Cumulative sun exposure causes mainly basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer, while episodes of severe sunburns and blistering, usually before age 18, may cause melanoma later in life.

Skin Cancer arises primarily on parts of sun-exposed skin like the scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms and hands, and on the legs in women. It can also form on less exposed areas of your body, such as your palms, beneath your fingernails or toenails, soles of the feet, and the genital area. These areas are not heavily exposed to sunlight, indicating that other factors may also contribute to your risk of skin cancer, such as being exposed to toxic substances or having a condition that weakens your immune system.

Risk Factors

Anyone can be at risk of developing skin cancer, though the risk increases as you get older. Skin cancer can take many years to develop. Your risk of developing skin cancer later in life increases, if you:

  • Have fair, light skin that freckles or burns easily
  • Had severe sunburn or blisters as a child or teenager
  • Have been exposed to sunlight throughout life
  • Use tanning beds or sunbeds
  • Have a history of skin damage or skin cancer
  • Has a history of abnormal moles on your skin
  • Have a history of skin cancer in your family
  • Have had radiotherapy in the past for skin conditions such as eczema and acne
  • Has been exposed to particular chemicals such as arsenic, coal tar, soot, petrol products etc
  • Have a weakened immune system due to disease or from taking certain immune-suppressing medicines.
Symptoms of Skin Cancer

The signs and symptoms depend on the type of skin cancer.

Basal cell carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma typically occurs in sun-exposed areas of your body, such as neck, head or face. It may appear as:

  • An open sore that bleeds, oozes, or crusts and does not heal for weeks
  • A firm, small, smooth, red or pink, or pearly or translucent bump
  • A scar-like, white, yellow, or waxy area, often with a poorly defined border
  • A pink raised growth with a central depression and crusting (ulceration)
  • A red patch that may crust or itch
Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma most often occurs on sun exposed areas of your body, such as face, ears, and hands. Moreover, it can also appear on the inside of your mouth or your genitals. Symptoms of SCC include:

  • An open sore that bleeds or crusts and does not heal for weeks
  • A pink growth, that resembles a wart or a rough, scaly bump.
  • A scaly, tender red patch with irregular borders, that may bleed
  • A raised growth with a rough surface and a central depression (ulceration)

Melanoma is the rarest of all types of skin cancers, that develops in the pigment-producing skin cells called melanocytes. It is the most deadly of all skin cancers, because it is more likely to spread. It usually develops on the chest, back, head, and neck of men, and on the legs of women. Moreover, melanoma can develop anywhere on the body, including areas not exposed to the sun, and even the eyes, or in an existing mole.

Often the first sign of melanoma is a new spot or mole, or a change in color, shape or size of an existing spot or mole. The ABCDE method may help you determine if an abnormal skin growth or mole may be melanoma.

  • Asymmetry: the shape of one half doesn’t match the other half
  • Border irregularity: edges are ragged or blurred
  • Color: uneven shades of brown, black, tan, red, white, or blue
  • Diameter: a significant change in size (greater than 6 mm)
  • Evolving: change in appearance over time
Other melanoma symptoms may include:
  • Skin sore that does not heal
  • Redness or swelling that spreads outside the border of a spot to the surrounding skin
  • Spot or sore that becomes painful, itchy, or tender
  • Changes in texture, or scales, oozing or bleeding from an existing mole
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