What is Skin Cancer? | Overview | Dermatology

Skin Cancer

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer most often develops in the areas of your body that are most exposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. It usually appears on the face, chest, arms, and hands.

Skin cancer, abnormal growth of skin cells, develops mainly on skin exposed to the sun. This common form of cancer means that your skin is generally not exposed to the sun.

There are three main types of skin cancer:

  • Basal cell carcinoma,
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Melanoma

You can reduce your risk of skin cancer by limiting or preventing exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Examining your skin for suspicious changes can help detect skin cancer at an early stage. Early detection of skin cancer gives you a great chance of success in treating skin cancer.

Skin cancer can develop even in less exposed areas of your body, such as:

  • On the scalp
  • Ears
  • Lips
  • Neck
  • Under your nails
  • The soles of your feet
  • Genitals

Skin cancers often appear as a suspicious mole, a small scar, or scar. But the accompanying symptoms depend on the type of skin cancer.

Symptoms of skin cancer

Skin cancer develops mainly on the exposed skin, scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms, and hands, and legs of women. It also rarely occurs in areas where you can see daylight: under the palms of the hands, under the fingernails or toenails, and in the genital area.

Skin cancer affects people of all skin tones, including darker complexions. When melanoma occurs in people with a darker skin tone, it is more likely to occur in areas that are not usually exposed to the sun, such as the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.

Signs and symptoms of basal cell carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma usually occurs on exposed areas of your body, such as your neck or face.

Basal cell carcinoma looks like this:

  • A bump of pearls or wax
  • Flattened, flesh-colored, or brownish-like ulcer
  • A bloody or swollen throat will heal and come back
  • Squamous cell carcinoma signs and symptoms

Squamous cell carcinoma most often occurs in sunny areas on your body such as your face, ears, and hands. People with darker skin are more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma in areas that are not frequently exposed to the sun.

Squamous cell carcinoma looks like this:

  • Firm red nodule
  • Flattened wound with flaky and crushed surface
  • Melanoma signs and symptoms

Melanoma can develop anywhere on the body, on normal skin, or an existing mole. Melanoma appears most often on the face or trunk of affected men. In women, this type of cancer most often develops in the lower legs. Melanoma occurs on the skin of men and women who are not exposed to the sun.

Melanoma can affect people with any skin tone. In people with a darker skin tone, melanoma can appear on the palms or soles of the feet, or under the fingernails or toenails.

Signs of melanoma:

  • Large brown spot with dark spots
  • A mole that changes in color, size, or feels or bleeds
  • Irregular border and small red, pink, white, blue, or bluish-black lesion
  • Painful ulcer with itching or burning
  • Dark lesions on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, fingers, or toes, or on the mucous membranes covering the mouth, nose, vagina, or anus.
  • Less common skin cancer signs and symptoms

Other less common types of skin cancer:

  • Kaposi’s sarcoma. This rare form of skin cancer develops in the blood vessels of the skin and causes red or folded spots on the skin or mucous membranes.
  • Kaposi’s sarcoma occurs mainly in people with a weakened immune system, such as those with AIDS, and in people who take drugs that suppress their natural immunity, such as people with organ transplants.
  • Other people at risk for Kaposi sarcoma include young people living in Africa or the elderly of Italian Jewish or Eastern European descent.
  • Merkel cell carcinoma. Merkel cell carcinoma is caused by shiny nodules on or under the skin and in the hair follicles or firmness. Merkel cell carcinoma most commonly appears on the head, neck, and trunk.
  • Carcinoma of the sebaceous glands. This unusual and aggressive cancer begins in the sebaceous glands of the skin. Carcinomas of the sebaceous glands, which often appear as hard, painless nodules, can develop anywhere, but most often occur on the eyelid, where they are often mistaken for other eyelid problems.

Causes and risk factors for skin cancer

Researchers don’t know why some cells turn cancerous. However, they have identified risk factors for skin cancer.

The most important risk factor for melanoma is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. This damages the DNA of skin cells, which is the way cells grow, divide and stay alive. Most UV rays come from sunlight, but also tanning beds.

Other risk factors:

Moles – A person with more than 100 miles is more likely to get melanoma.

Fluffy skin, light hair, and fine blemishes – Fair-skinned people are at higher risk of developing melanoma. Those who burn easily are at higher risk.

Family history: About 10% of people with the disease have a family history.

Personal history: Melanoma prefers to form in an existing person. People with basal or squamous cell carcinoma are also at increased risk for melanoma.

Diagnosis of skin cancer

A doctor or dermatologist can diagnose skin cancer.

First, a doctor examines the skin and takes a medical history.

When the mark first appears, they usually ask if it has changed in appearance, if it has ever been painful or itchy, and if it has bled.

The doctor will also ask about a person’s family history and other risk factors, such as lifetime sun exposure.

They can also check the rest of the body for other distinctive moles and scars. Finally, they feel to see if the lymph nodes are enlarged.

The doctor may refer a person to a dermatologist, dermatologist:

Examine the mark with a handheld loupe dermatoscopy

Take a small sample of skin, perform a biopsy, and send it to the lab to check for signs of cancer.  

Treatment for skin cancer

Treatment options for skin cancer and pre-existing skin lesions, known as actinic keratoses, vary depending on the size, type, depth, and location of the lesion. Small skin cancers that are confined to the surface of the skin do not require treatment beyond an initial skin biopsy that removes all of the skin.

If additional treatment is needed, options may include:

  • Freezing. Actinic keratoses and some small, early skin cancers can be destroyed by your doctor by clotting with liquid nitrogen (cryosurgery). As the dead tissue melts, it becomes loose.
  • Abnormal surgery This type of treatment is suitable for any type of skin cancer. Your doctor will cut the surrounding margin of cancerous tissue and healthy skin. In some cases, an extensive excision (removal of excess normal skin around the tumor) may be recommended.
  • Mohs surgery. This procedure is for skin cancers that are large, recurrent, or difficult to treat, including basal and squamous cell carcinomas. It is often used in areas where it is necessary to preserve as much skin as possible, such as the nose.

During Mohs surgery, your doctor will remove the skin growth layer by layer, examining each layer under a microscope so that there are no abnormal cells. This procedure allows cancer cells to be removed without removing too much of the surrounding healthy skin.

Curate and electrodissection or cryotherapy. After removing most of the growth, your doctor will remove the cancer cell layers using a device with a circular blade (healer). The electric needle destroys the remaining cancer cells. In a variation of this procedure, liquid nitrogen can be used to freeze the base and edges of the treated area. These simple and quick procedures can be used to treat basal cell cancers or thin squamous cell carcinomas.

  • Radiotherapy. Radiation therapy uses high-energy energy rays, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy is an option when cancer cannot be completely removed during surgery.
  • Chemotherapy. In chemotherapy, drugs are used to kill cancer cells. For cancers that are limited to the epidermis, creams, or lotions containing anti-cancer agents can be applied directly to the skin. Systemic chemotherapy can be used to treat skin cancers that have spread to other parts of the body.
  • Photodynamic therapy. This treatment kills cancer cells in the skin with a combination of laser light and drugs, making the cancer cells sensitive to light.
  • Biological treatment. Biological therapy uses your body’s immune system to destroy cancer cells.


Most skin cancers can be prevented. To protect yourself, follow these tips for preventing skin cancer:

Avoid the sun during the day. For most people in North America, the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Schedule outdoor activities during winter or at other times of the day, even when the sky is cloudy.

It absorbs ultraviolet radiation throughout the year, and clouds provide less protection against harmful rays. Intense sun exposure can prevent sunburn and sunburn that can damage the skin and increase the risk of skin cancer. Sunlight accumulated over time can also cause skin cancer.

Wear sunscreen throughout the year. Sunscreens don’t filter out all harmful ultraviolet radiation, especially the radiation that can cause melanoma. But they also play an important role in the overall sun protection program.

Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least 30 SPP even on cloudy days. Apply sunscreen generously and reapply every two hours, or when swimming or sweating. Use sunscreen generously on all exposed skin, including the lips, the tips of the ears, and the back of the arms and neck.

Wear protective clothing. Sunscreens do not provide complete protection against UV rays. So cover your skin with a tight dark dress and a wide-brimmed hat that covers your arms and legs, which provides more protection than a baseball cap or wizard.

Some companies also sell sun-protective clothing. A dermatologist can recommend a suitable brand.

Don’t forget your sunglasses. UVA and UVB rays – Look for those that block both types of UV radiation.

Avoid tanning beds. The lights used in tanning beds emit ultraviolet rays and increase the risk of skin cancer.

Learn about sunscreen. Some common prescription and nonprescription medications, including antibiotics, make the skin more sensitive to sunlight.

Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the side effects of the medicine you are taking. If your sensitivity to sunlight increases, take extra care to stay out of the sun to protect your skin.

Check your skin regularly and report any changes to your doctor. Check your skin frequently for new skin growths or changes in existing moles, small scars, bumps, and birthmarks.

With the help of glasses, check your face, neck, ears, and scalp. Examine your chest and trunk and the upper and lower parts of your arms and hands. Examine the front and back of the legs and feet, including the soles of the feet and the space between the toes. Also, check your genital area and between your buttocks.

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