Protect Your Body’s Largest Organ

Understanding the types of skin cancers
What organ spans ‘approximately’ 22 square feet, weights ‘approximately’ 8 pounds, and serves as one of your body’s primary barriers?
If your answer is skin, then congratulations, you’re correct.
When functioning properly, your body’s largest organ protects and nourishes you, but what happens when skin cancer disrupts this process?
In this article, we will outline the 3 main types of skin cancer and how treatment options, such as Mohs surgery, can mitigate these health risks.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC): most common type of skin cancer

There’s an undeniable allure to the sun’s warmth. A simple pleasure deeply ingrained in our very nature. Yet, as with many delights, there’s a caveat. The danger, invisible but devastating, comes in the form of Ultraviolet (UV rays). They have the potential to cause various types of skin cancer, with Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) reigning as the most common.

This insidious disease can be a consequence of too much time spent basking in the sunlight or using artificial tanning methods. It’s a stark reminder that being sun-smart, shielding your skin from harmful rays, is a non-negotiable facet of overall skin health.

Let’s look at some statistics to illustrate the extent of the issue. For every 100 skin cancer cases, around 80 are identified as Basal cell carcinoma. The figures are daunting. However, there’s a semblance of relief. The characteristic of BCC that sets it apart is its tendency to stay put. Rarely does it metastasize or wander to the lymph nodes or other body parts. But let’s not mistake this for an excuse to be complacent. The importance of early detection and prompt treatment cannot be overstated. Without these, the risk of complications rises, and the possibility of disfigurement looms.

The elusive nature of BCC can complicate matters further. It can don several disguises. Sometimes it might appear as a pearly or waxy bump on the skin, often accompanied by visible blood vessels. These bumps may occasionally bleed or develop a crust. Alternatively, BCC can present as a flat, flesh-colored, or brown lesion, deceptively benign, mimicking a harmless scar. What makes this all the more challenging is that these symptoms usually don’t cause discomfort. Consequently, they can be easily dismissed or overlooked, underscoring the critical role of regular skin self-examinations.

A myriad of risk factors can set the stage for Basal cell carcinoma. It tends to target individuals with fair skin, those with a history of severe sunburns, or those who have an unquenchable love for basking in the sun. People with compromised immune systems are also more susceptible. An increased risk is associated with radiation exposure as well. To mitigate these risks, it’s recommended to seek shade, wear protective clothing, and use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or more.

When faced with a Basal cell carcinoma diagnosis, there are several treatment options, tailored to fit the specifics of the tumor—its size, location, and depth. Among these, Mohs surgery stands out as one of the most precise and effective methods. Picture this: a surgeon delicately removing thin layers of cancerous skin cells, each layer scrutinized under a microscope, the process repeated until no more cancerous cells are spotted. This surgical approach is not just highly successful, but it also prioritizes the preservation of as much healthy skin as possible, thereby minimizing the risk of disfigurement.

If surgery doesn’t make the cut, there are other alternatives worth considering, like photodynamic therapy. Here, a light-sensitizing drug is applied to the skin tumor. It’s then exposed to a specific wavelength of light, a targeted attack that effectively annihilates the cancer cells. Other treatment options include radiation therapy and topical medications engineered to rally the immune system against cancer.

sun exposure skin cancer

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC): one of the major types of skin cancer

As we delve deeper into the complex realm of dermatology, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) emerges as a frequent player in the landscape of skin cancers. This common variety significantly impacts public health and necessitates our focused attention. To navigate the intricate labyrinth of skin health, gaining a firm grasp on SCC, its origins, and potential symptoms is vital.

SCC, often referred to as the chameleon of skin cancers, finds its roots in the squamous cells. These thin, flat cells form the outermost layer of the skin — the epidermis. SCC is a rather stealthy disease, beginning inconspicuously and then gradually escalating into a more discernible threat over time. So, what brings about SCC? The answer lies in something as ordinary as daylight: UV rays. The skin, when basking in sunlight or exposed to the artificial UV light from tanning beds, absorbs these harmful rays — a cocktail of danger. This exposure can inflict damage on the DNA within your skin cells, promoting uncontrolled growth and, regrettably, leading to the formation of skin tumors.

Moving onto the challenging part: identifying squamous cell carcinoma. SCC can manifest itself as a firm, red nodule or a flat lesion with a scaly, crusted surface. These typically appear on sun-exposed areas like the face, ears, and hands. Yet, it can also arise on areas less exposed to sunlight. Unlike its cousin, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma has the potential to spread occasionally to the lymph nodes and other organs if neglected, emphasizing the paramount importance of early detection.

The risk factors associated with squamous cell carcinoma are wide-ranging, including everything from fair skin, a history of sunburns, excessive sun exposure, and a compromised immune system to exposure to radiation. While these risk factors are common among all types of skin cancer, including melanoma, they hold particularly significant sway in the development of SCC.

How might we mitigate these risks? Preventative strategies are our secret weapon. These include limiting sun exposure, wearing protective clothing, and the regular application of sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Remember, each preventative measure taken is a stride towards healthier skin.

When it comes to treatment options for squamous cell carcinoma, the spectrum is broad, contingent on the size, location, and depth of the tumor. Mohs surgery is one such method. During this procedure, the surgeon excises thin layers of cancerous skin, scrutinizing each under a microscope until no more cancer cells are detected. This technique boasts a high success rate and minimizes damage to healthy skin tissue, reducing the risk of disfigurement.

But what if surgery isn’t the optimal choice? Alternative treatments such as photodynamic therapy might be employed. In this therapy, a light-sensitizing drug is applied to the tumor, which is then exposed to a specific wavelength of light, effectively annihilating the cancerous cells. Other options can encompass radiation therapy or topical medications designed to spur the immune system into action against cancer cells.

Melanoma: the most aggressive type of skin cancer

As we explored the various types of skin cancer, three primary categories emerge: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and the most aggressive form: melanoma. Characterized by its ability to go undetected and its potential to metastasize to other body parts, melanoma presents a significant challenge. However, with proper understanding and vigilance, we can effectively identify and address this formidable skin cancer.

Distinct from its counterparts, melanoma originates from pigment-producing cells called melanocytes, which contribute color to our skin, hair, and eyes. During exposure to sunlight, UV rays can provoke mutations in these melanocytes, resulting in uncontrolled growth and the development of skin tumors. It is essential to acknowledge that both solar radiation and artificial sources such as tanning beds contribute to these DNA-damaging UV rays.

Melanoma’s particularly insidious nature lies in its capacity to camouflage itself, frequently appearing as an innocuous mole. The key to detection is monitoring changes. If a mole is growing, altering its shape or color, or appears different from your other moles, it could be a sign of melanoma. Bleeding, itching, or inflammation might also indicate a problem. To simplify identification, follow the ABCDE rule: Asymmetry, Border irregularity, Color that is not uniform, Diameter greater than 6mm, and Evolving size, shape, or color. Prompt detection is critical, as melanoma can metastasize to the lymph nodes and other organs if left untreated.

Risk factors for melanoma encompass complexion (with fair skin more susceptible), a history of sunburns, excessive sun exposure, and a compromised immune system. Additional risk factors include numerous or atypical moles and a family history of melanoma. Recognizing these risks is vital, as they inform our prevention strategies.

How can we protect ourselves against this formidable adversary? Sun safety is crucial. This encompasses limiting sun exposure (particularly during peak UV times), wearing protective clothing, and applying broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Regular self-examinations for new or changing moles and annual skin check-ups by a dermatologist also serve as powerful preventative tools.

Treatment options for melanoma depend on the size, location, and stage of the cancer. In many cases, surgery is the primary course of action, often through a procedure called Mohs surgery. During this process, the surgeon excises thin layers of skin, carefully examining each under a microscope until no cancer cells remain. This method is not only highly effective but also preserves as much healthy skin tissue as possible.

In situations where surgery is not feasible or when melanoma has spread to other body parts, alternative treatments may be considered. These can encompass radiation therapy, systemic medications targeting specific genetic changes in the melanoma cells, or therapies that stimulate the immune system to combat the cancer. Photodynamic therapy, which employs a light-activated drug to eradicate cancer cells, might also be an option, though it is less commonly used for melanoma compared to other types of skin cancer.

Final Thoughts

Arguably one of the few organs that can be openly discussed without making people squirm, skin is valued for both its utility and beauty, thus, making sure it’s healthy is paramount.

Our team of experienced doctors and medical staff couldn’t agree more.