What is skin cancer, and how can it be treated?
Skin cancer is a condition which involves the abnormal growth of skin cells, typically arising from sun exposure. However, skin cancer can also develop on skin areas which are not usually exposed to the sun.
In this blog, we examine skin cancer and its main types, take a look at the symptoms of skin cancer, and then look at the various private skin cancer treatments which are available for those with the condition.
What are the different types of skin cancer?
There are two main categories of skin cancer, and these are defined by the cells which are involved:
– Keratinocyte carcinoma – this type involves squamous or basal cell skin cancers. These are recognised as the most common skin cancer forms. They usually develop on the areas of the body which are most exposed to the sun, such as the neck and head. In general, these forms of skin cancer are less likely to spread or develop into a life-threatening condition. However, if they are left untreated, there is the chance that they could grow and spread to different parts of the body.
– Melanoma – this is a cancer type which arises from melanocytes; the cells which are responsible for the colour of the skin. Benign moles can be formed by the melanocytes – developing anywhere on the body – and these can become cancerous. In men, the moles are most likely to develop on the back and chest, whereas in women, they typically develop on the legs. If melanomas are identified early they can be treated and cured. In cases where they have been left untreated, they can spread to other parts of the body and become more difficult to treat. It is understood that there is a higher possibility that melanomas will spread compared to the keratinocyte carcinoma type of skin cancer.
Symptoms of skin cancer
Now let’s look at skin cancer symptoms. In the case of basal cell carcinoma, signs usually occur on the neck or face and can include; ‘waxy’ bumps; a brown or flesh-coloured flat lesion; or a scabby or bleeding sore which can return after healing.
For squamous cell carcinoma – which typically develops on areas of the body exposed to the sun, but in people with darker skin, more likely occurs on areas which are not subject to sun exposure – symptoms can include; a flat lesion with a scaly surface; or a firm red nodule.
Melanoma, which can occur anywhere on the body, includes signs such as; a large brown-coloured spot that has darker specks; a mole which changes in size and colour and can bleed; a painful lesion; a small, irregular shaped lesion that has areas in several colours; mucous membranes which line the nose, mouth, anus or vagina; or dark lesions on the hands or feet.
It should be noted that there are relatively rare forms of skin cancer – such as kaposi sarcoma, merkel cell carcinoma and sebaceous gland carcinoma – which can exhibit different symptoms.
Skin cancer treatment
After skin cancer has been diagnosed via a physical examination and skin biopsy, there are a number of treatment options available. The treatment which is chosen is likely to depend on the size, type and location of the lesions.
In some cases, an initial skin biopsy is all that is needed to remove an entire growth. In other cases, additional treatments can be required such as; excisional skin cancer surgery; freezing and destroying of actinic keratoses; cryotherapy; Mohs surgery; chemotherapy; radiation therapy; biological therapy; and photodynamic therapy.