Know the basics
What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. It occurs when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells triggers mutations, or genetic defects, that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors.
There are three major types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.
How common is skin cancer?
Skin cancer is extremely common. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
Know the symptoms
What are the symptoms of skin cancer?
Skin cancer develops on the sun-exposed skin, including the scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms and hands, and on the legs in women. Also, it can form on areas that rarely see such as your palms, beneath your fingernails or toenails, and your genital area.
Signs and symptoms may include:
- Basal cell carcinoma usually occurs in sun-exposed areas of your body, such as your neck or face. Basal cell carcinoma may appear as a pearly or waxy bump, or a flat, flesh-colored or brown scar-like lesion.
- Squamous cell carcinoma often happens on sun-exposed areas of your body, such as face, ears, and hands. People with darker skin are more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma on areas that aren’t often exposed to the sun. This type of skin cancer may appear as a firm, red nodule, or a flat lesion with a scaly, crusted surface.
- Melanoma can develop anywhere on your body, in otherwise normal skin or in an existing mole that becomes cancerous. Melanoma signs include a large brownish spot with darker speckles; a mole that changes in color, size or feel or that bleeds; a small lesion with an irregular border and portions that appear red, white, blue or blue-black; dark lesions on your palms, soles, fingertips or toes, or on mucous membranes lining your mouth, nose, vagina or anus
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice any changes to your skin that worry you. Not all skin changes are caused by skin cancer. Your doctor will investigate your skin changes to determine a cause.
Know the causes
What causes skin cancer?
Skin cancer occurs when errors (mutations) occur in the DNA of skin cells. The mutations cause the cells to grow out of control and form a mass of cancer cells.
Much of the damage to DNA in skin cells results from ultraviolet (UV) radiation found in sunlight and in the lights used in tanning beds. However, sun exposure doesn’t explain skin cancers that develop on skin not ordinarily exposed to sunlight. This indicates that other factors may contribute to your risk of skin cancers such as being exposed to toxic substances or having a condition that weakens your immune system.
Know the risk factors
What increases my risk for skin cancer?
There are many risk factors for skin cancer, such as:
- Fair skin: Anyone, regardless of skin color, can get skin cancer. However, having less pigment (melanin) in your skin provides less protection from damaging UV radiation. If you have blond or red hair and light-colored eyes, and you freckle or sunburn easily, you’re much more likely to develop skin cancer than is a person with darker skin.
- A history of sunburns could increase your risk of developing skin cancer as an adult. Sunburns in adulthood also are a risk factor.
- Excessive sun exposure may develop skin cancer when you spend considerable time in the sun, especially if the skin isn’t protected by sunscreen or clothing. Tanning, including exposure to tanning lamps and beds, also puts you at risk. A tan is your skin’s injury response to excessive UV radiation.
- Sunny or high-altitude climates: people who live in sunny, warm climates are exposed to more sunlight than are people who live in colder climates. Living at higher elevations, where the sunlight is strongest, also exposes you to more radiation.
- Moles: people who have many moles or abnormal moles called dysplastic nevi are at increased risk of skin cancer. These abnormal moles — which look irregular and are generally larger than normal moles — are more likely than others to become cancerous. If you have a history of abnormal moles, watch them regularly for changes.
- Precancerous skin lesions such as actinic keratoses can increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Their growths typically appear as rough, scaly patches that range in color from brown to dark pink. They’re most common on the face, head and hands of fair-skinned people whose skin has been sun damaged.
- A family history of skin cancer: if one of your parents or a sibling has had skin cancer, you may have an increased risk of the disease.
- A personal history of skin cancer: if you developed skin cancer once, you’re at risk of developing it again.
- A weakened immune system: people with weakened immune systems have a greater risk of developing skin cancer. This includes people living with HIV/AIDS and those taking immunosuppressant drugs after an organ transplant.
- Exposure to radiation: people who received radiation treatment for skin conditions such as eczema and acne may have an increased risk of skin cancer, particularly basal cell carcinoma.
- Exposure to certain substances such as arsenic may increase your risk of skin cancer.
Understand the diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is skin cancer diagnosed?
To diagnose skin cancer, your doctor may:
- Examine your skin to determine whether your skin changes are likely to be skin cancer. Further testing may be needed to confirm that diagnosis.
- Remove a sample of suspicious skin for testing (skin biopsy): your doctor may remove the suspicious-looking skin for lab testing. A biopsy can determine whether you have skin cancer and, if so, what type of skin cancer you have.
How is skin cancer treated?
Depend on the severity of your skin cancer, your doctor can recommend treatment of medication and/ or additional procedures:
- Medications: topical therapies and drugs that are injected or taken orally.
- Procedures: surgeries, laser and light-based treatments and radiation therapy.
Lifestyle changes & Home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage skin cancer?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with skin cancer:
- Avoid the sun during the middle of the day, especially from 10a.m to 4p.m;
- Usually, wear sunscreen;
- Usually, wear protective clothes when going out;
- Avoid tanning beds;
- Try to check your skin regularly and report changes to your doctor.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Skin Cancer. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/skincancer/. Accessed September 22, 2016.
Skin Cancer Information. http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information. Accessed September 22, 2016.
Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center. http://www.webmd.com/melanoma-skin-cancer/. Accessed September 22, 2016.
Skin cancer. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/skin-cancer/basics/definition/con-20031606. Accessed September 22, 2016.
Review Date: January 4, 2017 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017