With nearly 1 million people being diagnosed with skin cancer every year; it has become one of the most common types of cancer today.
Though there are many forms of skin cancer, they can mainly be classified into 3 types:
- Basal cell carcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma
Basal and squamous cell carcinoma are the non-melanoma type of skin cancer and are the most common forms. Melanoma, on the other hand, is a much complicated type of skin cancer as it tends to metastasize quickly throughout the body.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
The basal cells line the deepest layer of the epidermis which is the outermost layer of the skin. When abnormal lesions appear on these cells it is known as basal cell carcinoma. Its growth is uncontrollable and it often looks like red patches or open sores. People often mistakenly dismiss it as scars, thus delaying diagnosis. This type of carcinoma can seriously disfigure the skin; however, it never metastasizes beyond its original size when it first appeared.
According to recent reports, each year there are nearly 2.8 million cases of basal cell carcinoma diagnosed in the US. In fact, it is one of the most frequently occurring forms of cancer. Statistics show that one out of every three cancer diagnosed is that of skin cancer, especially the basal cell carcinoma.
Signs and Symptoms of Basal Cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is difficult to identify as they present features that are similar to non-cancerous conditions such as eczema or psoriasis. However, the following are some of the common symptoms that should be evaluated by a medical doctor.
- Open Sore: If you have an open sore that does not heal but instead oozes blood and pus along with formation of crusts, it is a sign of cancer. If the sore does not heal and continues to bleed, it is a very common symptom of basal cell carcinoma.
- Bump or Nodule: If a bump forms which is shiny as well as translucent, it is a sign of basal cell carcinoma. Such bumps are usually pink, white or red in color, although at times it may even be tan or black in dark-haired people. Due to this reason, it is usually confused as a mole and not given much attention.
- Red Patch: This is another common symptom of basal cell carcinoma. A reddish patch appears anywhere on the body, but particularly on the shoulders, neck and arms. It may crust after a time followed by itching.
- Scar: A scar like area is formed which maybe white or yellow in color and is usually waxy in feel. The skin of the area becomes taut and also appears shiny.
- Painful Growth: A pink growth on the skin with elevated borders and an indentation in the middle is also a common sign of skin cancer. The growth tends to enlarge slowly and blood vessels develop around it. This makes the growth very painful.
Treatment of Basal Cell Carcinoma
First, your physician will conduct an examination which is followed up with a biopsy to confirm the physician’s instincts. If the results of the examination reveal tumor cells, then the following treatment options are discussed with the patient.
- Mohs Microscopic Surgery: This surgery is done with local anesthesia and the tumor is removed along with a thin layer of tissue. Every layer is examined thoroughly, to make sure all possible cancerous cells are removed. This treatment is the most accurate technique with a high rate of cure without recurrence almost up to 98%.
- Curettage and Electrodessication: Here, the physician uses a local curette to scrape off the tumor. At the same time, using an electrocautery needle, heat is produced to remove residual tumor. The technique is repeated twice or thrice to remove all traces of the tumor. This technique is usually ineffective for aggressive basal cell carcinoma.
- Excisional Surgery: In this surgery, the area surrounding the tumor is numbed using a local anesthesia. Then, using a scalpel the tumor is removed along with some skin around the tumor just to be safe. The skin is then pulled together and held in place with stitches till it is healed.
- Cryosurgery: Under this technique, the tumor cells are destroyed by freezing them using liquid nitrogen. Multiple sessions are required for the tumor to be completely destroyed. Crusts form at the area which will later fall off.
- Laser Surgery: Using laser technology, the outer layer of the skin, including the deeper layers are removed to make sure the tumor is removed in its entirety. Laser surgery is usually used as a secondary treatment with other treatments.
- Photodynamic Therapy: This treatment is usually used when a patient is diagnosed with multiple basal cell carcinomas. A photosynthesizing agent is applied on the tumor which is absorbed by the tumor cell. The next day, the affected area or areas are treated with strong light which causes the destruction of basal cell carcinoma.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cells are present closer to the skin’s surface. Any abnormal and uncontrollable growth of these cells is known as squamous cell carcinoma. The carcinoma looks like red patches, warts or open sores or it may also look like an elevated growth with a central depression. The cancer can affect any part of the body, including the mucus lining. Damage caused by overexposure to sunlight is one of the leading causes of squamous cell carcinoma. So, it affects those parts of the skin that are exposed to the sun such as the ear, lips, hands, arms, neck etc.
Signs and Symptoms of Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma usually appears as a thick and roughened patch. Some of the common signs and symptoms are:
- A scaly patch with irregular borders that bleed.
- An elevated growth that has a depression in the center. The depression may bleed and it can also grow rapidly.
- An open wound that bleeds and does not heal forming crusts that usually falls off. New sores develop in its place.
- A growth resembling a wart that usually bleeds and crusts.
Treatment of Squamous Cell Carcinoma
The treatment for squamous cell carcinoma is similar to the treatment for basal cell carcinoma. So, any of the treatments that are used to treat basal cell carcinoma can also be used to treat squamous cell carcinoma as well. Moh’s Micrographic surgery, excisional surgery, cryosurgery, curettage and electrodessication treatment, photodynamic therapy and laser surgery including radiation are equally effective for squamous cell carcinoma. Topical medications which are FDA approved can also be used.
The signs and symptoms of this cancer should not be ignored because it is appears superficially on the skin. This cancer can also metastasize and spread to the underlying tissues causing severe disfigurement. Rarely, it spreads to the other organs of the body, in which case it can be life threatening.
Melanoma is a very dangerous kind of skin cancer and it is caused by the mutations which occur due to the extensive exposure to the sun or due to the overexposure that occurs during artificial tanning using tanning beds. The tumor of this kind forms in the melanocytes which are situated in the epidermis layer. Melanomas look similar to moles and are black or brown in color. If melanoma is detected early, it is can be treated.
Signs and Symptoms of Melanoma
Becoming familiar with and aware of any changes that occur in your body including the surface of the skin will help you spot melanomas early on. Always take note of new growths or moles that appear on the skin. Lesions that do not heal and bleed are all warning signs of melanomas.
You can use these guidelines to check if the mole is a melanoma or not:
- The mole or the growth is asymmetrical in shape and size.
- The mole has an irregular border and is also uneven.
- The new moles are differently colored than the previous moles.
- The mole has a larger diameter than usual moles; more than 6mm.
- The moles will change in color, shape and size over time.
Treatment of Melanoma
The standard method of treatment is the removal of the melanoma by surgical excision. Due to advances in surgery, the tissue that is removed during surgery is very minimal and the patient is spared of postoperative cosmetic surgery. This surgical excision is also known as resection and the border of the area which has been excised is known as margins.
Usually, the removal of thin melanomas can be done as an outpatient procedure using local anesthesia. The patient can go home after the surgical site has been secured using stitches. It is important to avoid heavy work as the surgical site heals.
The other option is Moh’s Micrographic Surgery. As with the basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, this process involves removal of one thin layer of the cancerous tissue at a time till entire carcinoma has been excised and the tissues are clear of the tumor.
Skin cancer is a very common form of cancer. Fortunately, if it is detected early on, the patient has a 98% survival rate. Cutting down on the exposure to sunlight and reducing the time spent on tanning beds can greatly reduce the risks of becoming a victim of skin cancer.