Skin Cancer

There are many different cells in the skin and any one of them can turn into cancer.  The term "Skin Cancer"  refers to any cell in the skin that is dividing out of control.   The main skin cells that turn into cancer are:

Cell type Skin Cancer
Melanocyte Melanoma
Basal Cell Basal cell carcinoma
Squamous Cell Squamous cell carcinoma

Melanoma is a very aggressive tumour, ie. it grows very rapidly and can spread to other parts of the body very easily.  The key to treating melanoma is to detect it early and excise it.  When found early the 5 year survival is close to 100%! Melanoma can present in many ways, it can be dark,light, raised, flat..... The common history in melanoma is that the lesion is changing.  This includes a change in the size,shape and sensation(tenderness,itchy or bleeding) of the lesion.  If you are suspicous about a lesion then it is best to see your doctor and have it viewed using a dermatoscope.  Even better is to use computerised dermatoscopy.

The main risk factors for melanoma are:

  • Age.
  • Blistering sunburn as a child.
  • Frequent sunexposure in the past or present.
  • Fair coloured skin.
  • Previous skin cancer.
  • Family history of melanoma.

 


Basal Cell Carcinoma(BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer.  BCC tends to grow slowly and is much less likely to spread to other areas of the body than melanoma.   BCC often presents as a small nodule that bleeds easily or a flat pink area of scally skin.  It is important to catch this cancer early as it can invade local structures making the surgical excision very disfiguring.  When caught early, BCC can be treated using other modalities apart from surgery.  BCC most commonly occurs on exposed areas of the body but can occur anywhere.


Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is another common skin cancer.  SCC can develop slowly but can also be VERY aggressive, doubling in size every few weeks.  SCC can have a pre-cursor lesion called an actinic keratosis which presents as a small scally piece of skin most commonly on the face and arms.  Destroying these keratosis before they have a chance to develop in to cancer can prevent the development to SCC.  SCC can present in a number of forms from flat scally areas to tender pink nodules.  Unfortunately, the death rate from SCC is rising making early detection crucial.

 

 

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