Diseases & Conditions

Skin Cancer

What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is a type of cancer that develops when skin cells grow and multiply in an uncontrolled way. Naturally, we produce new skin cells when older skin cells become damaged or die. But if something causes this to not happen in the way it is supposed to, then the cells – including abnormal cells – can grow very rapidly.

The rapidly growing cells can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

There are three types of skin cancer:

  • Basal cell carcinoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Melanoma.

The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. They are referred to as non-melanoma. These types of skin cancer can usually be treated successfully if caught early. Click here to learn more about the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer.

Melanoma isn’t as common as non-melanoma skin cancer but it is a the most aggressive form of skin cancer. If Melanoma is caught late or left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the body, making it much harder to treat

Which Areas of Skin are Affected by Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer usually develops in areas that are exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck, back, hands, arms, and chest. It can also develop in areas that are less-exposed including under the nails or soles of the feet.

Skin cancer most commonly develops in the top layer of the skin, called the epidermis. There are three types of cells found in the epidermis:

Squamous cells: Flat cells found on the outer layer of the epidermis, which are constantly shedding. Cancer found here is called squamous cell carcinoma (non-melanoma).

Basel cells: Found underneath the squamous cells, these cells divide and multiply and replace the old squamous cells. Cancer that forms in these cells is called squamous cell carcinoma (non-melanoma).

Melanocytes: These cells produce melanin, the color pigment of your skin which also protects it against UV damage. Skin cancer that forms in this layer is called melanoma.

What Causes Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer can develop in anyone, of any skin color. Most cases of skin cancer are caused by exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun, particularly if it causes the skin to burn or blister.

The sun’s UV light damages your skin’s DNA and causes abnormal cells to form. If these abnormal cells divide rapidly, they can form a cancerous mass.

Frequent contact with certain chemicals, such as coal or tar, can also cause skin cancer.

You may increase your risk of developing skin cancer if you:

  • Spend a lot of time in the sun
  • Get sunburnt easily or have fair skin/hair
  • Use tanning beds
  • Have received UV light therapy for other skin conditions
  • Have a lot of moles
  • Have a family history of skin cancer
  • Take immunosuppressants
  • Have received an organ transplant.

How Common is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UAE after breast, thyroid, and colorectal cancers. It is the second leading cause of cancer amongst men, and the sixth amongst women. The number of people being diagnosed with skin cancer in the UAE and globally is increasing.

What are the Symptoms of Skin Cancer?

The most common sign of skin cancer is a change in the appearance of your skin. This can include a new mole or growth, or a change in an existing one.

Basel cell carcinomas: This type of skin cancer usually causes smooth, pearly bumps or flat pink/brown lesions on areas that are commonly exposed to the sun. They can also cause scar-like marks to appear or sores that are crusty and bleed. Basel cell carcinomas are usually slow growing.

Squamous cell carcinoma: This usually appears as firm red/pink nodules or as scaly patches that bleed or itch, on areas that are exposed to the sun. Squamous cell carcinoma can also develop in the mucus membranes and genitals.

Melanoma: Can develop anywhere in the body, including in the internal organs. On the skin, it often appears as a brown colored patch or as a mole that has changed size or shape.

The ABCDE rule

This is a rule that helps remind you of the signs and symptoms of possible skin cancers:

  • Asymmetry: An irregular shape.
  • Border: Blurry or irregularly shaped edges.
  • Color: A mole with more than one color.
  • Diameter: Larger than 6 mm.
  • Evolution: Growing, changing in shape, color, or size (the most important sign).

How Can Skin Cancer be Prevented?

Skin Cancer can usually be prevented by reducing exposure to the damaging UV light from the sun. Always wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen (minimum SPF of 30) which protects against UV-A and UB-B rays and cover-up exposed skin when out in the sun. Certain medications may make your skin more sensitive to UV light, so always take extra precautions.

Always Check Your Skin

Check your skin regularly for any changes using the ABCDE rule and see your doctor immediately if you notice any changes. Most skin cancers can be cured if they are caught early and haven’t had a chance to spread.

© Copyright 2017 Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. All rights reserved.

This information is provided by Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, part of Mubadala Healthcare, and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

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