Once considered a rare disease, today one out of every three cancers diagnosed worldwide is a Skin Cancer. What may seem like a usual skin imperfection, may not be just as innocent as it seems. Skin cancers have a very high cure rate if detected early and interestingly, it is a type of cancer that is more easily noticed by patients themselves and does not need elaborate tests to confirm.
Skin cancer is any cancer that starts first on the skin and may then spread to inner body organs if left untreated for a long. They are broadly divided into two types-Melanoma (which is associated with moles) and non-melanoma (which is not associated with moles). Non-melanoma skin cancer like SCCs and BCCs are much more common, have a lesser chance of being fatal, and are more easily treatable than melanomas.
Most skin cancers occur on the sun-exposed parts of the body like the scalp, face, hands, and legs, though covered parts can also be affected.
How to suspect if you have a skin cancer
Any Change in the mole - If you suspect any change in your existing moles like
The rapid change in the size of a mole
Different shades of color seen in one mole
The moles show zig-zag borders instead of a smooth border
Large size- bigger than the diameter of the eraser on the back of a pencil
Any itch, ooze, discharge, or bleeding from a mole
A non-healing wound/pimple - If any of your wound is taking longer than normal to heal, you should consult a dermatologist to rule out if it has a cancerous nature
New rash on a healed wound or on old surgery scars - If you notice any activity or a new rash on an already healed wound or scar, it should be consulted with a dermatologist
Any persistent dry rough patch on the skin - If one notices a patch of dry-looking or rough-feeling reddish rash, mostly on sun-exposed area- it should be checked to rule out actinic keratosis which could be a precursor for skin cancer
Black discoloration of nails - If one notices any blackish discoloration or black lines on the toe or fingernails, it should be discussed with a dermatologist, although fungal infection is still the most common reason for discoloration.
Who are at an increased risk of skin cancer?
Fairer skin types.
People with fairer skin, light-colored hair, and hazel eyes, have more chances of skin
cancer as they lack the protective melanin in their cells. This does not mean that
dark-skinned people do not get skin cancers.
Excessive exposure to the sun increases the risk of skin cancers. It is known that
more than 5 episodes of sunburn since childhood will increase the risk of skin
cancer by 50%. It is the high cumulative sun exposure (addition of daily sun
exposure since early childhood) which increase the risk of cancers
Indoor tanning beds.
Indoor tanning beds emit UV rays 10-15 times higher than the sun at its peak intensity.
These increase your chances of skin cancer many folds
Organ transplant/ Radiation therapies - Those with weaker immune systems, those who have undergone organ transplants and people had undergone extensive radiation therapies have higher risk of skin cancers
Exposure to chemicals
Exposure to chemicals like Arsenic, found in some parts of the world in groundwater or in certain pesticides cases a risk of SCC.
Workers working in mining fields and those working with cola tar and paraffin are also at high risk
Family history - People who have family members with skin cancer have a higher risk of having them.
Previous skin cancers - Those who have had an episode of skin cancer in the past have higher chances of getting skin cancers again in the future
Multiple moles - Higher number of moles on one’s body, increases the chances of them having skin cancer
Smoking - Smokers have increased chances of having SCCs type of cancer on lips or inside mouth
Old Age - Elderlies are most prone to skin cancers relatively as compared to young adults
How can we protect ourselves from skin cancer
Avoiding the sun and protecting oneself from the mid-day sun is the most crucial step in preventing skin cancers.
Always wear sunscreen on all the exposed areas of the body, when out in the sun
Wear full sleeves clothes and a broad-rimmed cap and seek shades wherever possible
Children should be educated and advised on sun protection as early prevention and good habits helps in a long way in preventing skin cancers
Check your skin regularly - We should examine our whole body in the full-length mirror and look for any change in any mole or any other warning signs as mentioned above. Examine carefully under axillae and other skin folds, back and buttocks, and the palms and soles regularly. Keep taking skin selfies and look for any change in any mole over time
Annual skin check - Those who have multiple moles, a family history of skin cancer, a previous history of skin cancer or any other high risk, should see a dermatologist annually. Skin can be checked with a cancer screening device called a dermoscope which can also help to detect any precancerous rash. Suspected moles can also be recorded and tracked with mole mapping-a device meant for people with high risk of skin cancers.
When in doubt check it out - If one has any concerns or is in doubt about any skin rash or mole, a dermatologist should be consulted to rule out any early signs of cancer
Image from a courtesy of Canadian cancer foundation
Can Skin cancers be treated?
Skin cancers can be treated 100% if detected early. There are various ways of treating skin cancer depending on the severity and stage of presentation. Treatments can be as simple as a simple skin surgery and cryotherapy for early cases or sometimes immunotherapy and radiation for those cases which has spread to deeper body organs. Performing regular skin checks and consulting a dermatologist for even a trivial but concerning skin rash is always advised for early detection of skin cancer, which can be fully curable.
Skin is the largest organ of the body and reflects our inner health. It deserves your love and care. Help us help you by getting regular skin checkups and detecting cancer early. Remember in this case, early detection is akin to cure. Stay Sun protected Stay Skin safe.