Skin Cancer - Risk Factors, Symptoms and Treatment

Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is a collection of abnormal cells in the skin that may be noncancerous (benign), which don't spread or cause harm, or cancerous, which can grow to other areas of the body and cause damage if not detected early.

Risk factors for skin cancer include exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays, which damage the DNA in the skin. Some other factors that can increase your risk of skin cancer include ozone depletion, genetic mutations, cigarette smoking, certain medications and conditions, and exposure to chemicals.

Screening and Detection

If you have a family history of skin cancer, talk to your doctor about a screening test to detect possible skin cancer early. You can also get a skin check from a dermatologist every one to two years, and routinely check your skin in the mirror to spot suspicious spots or growths.

Moles and other spots that change in color, size or shape over time can be a warning sign of skin cancer. They should be checked regularly by your health care provider and may be looked at under a microscope by a dermatologist for a more specialized diagnosis.

Keep an eye out for new spots, freckles or any moles that become larger, darker or change shape over time. If you have any of the ABCDE's of melanoma -- or any mole that looks tender, itching, oozing, scaly or has redness and swelling beyond it - see your doctor as soon as possible.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of a skin cancer usually start gradually, but they can be sudden and severe. These symptoms can include itching, a sore that won't heal, pain or a new growth on the skin that is a little larger than a pencil eraser or a scar that gets wider and longer over time.

Your healthcare provider may be able to spot a cancerous spot and remove it with a surgical procedure called Mohs surgery. In this procedure, the doctor shaves away the tumor and its surrounding tissue one layer at a time to ensure that no cancerous cells remain behind.

Treatment and Prognosis

Treatment for a skin cancer typically depends on the type of skin cancer and the stage of the tumor, which is determined using the TNM system. TNM is a classification scheme used to assess the thickness and depth of the tumor, how far it has spread and whether any lymph nodes have been affected by the cancer.

Most squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) of the skin can be cured when caught and treated early. But if the cancer has advanced, it can spread to local lymph nodes or other parts of the body, making it more difficult to treat.

If you are diagnosed with a squamous cell carcinoma, treatment is usually based on the tumor's stage and may include radiation therapy, a type of chemotherapy or other types of treatment. Some treatments may not work for everyone, so your health care provider will help you decide which options are best for you.

Squamous cell skin cancer is more likely to develop in fair-skinned people, but it can occur in any skin type. It can affect the nose, forehead, ears, and hands and other sun-exposed areas of the body. Squamous cell carcinomas are more often found in older adults, but they can happen in younger people too.

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