Skin cancer, or the abnormal growth of skin cells, is one of the most common forms of cancer worldwide. More than 90 percent of skin cancers are caused by sun exposure. Knowing the causes and symptoms of this condition can help you seek professional advice and treatment. Early detection is very beneficial for skin cancer.
Types of Skin Cancer
Skin cancers are divided into two major groups: non-melanoma and melanoma.
Melanoma is the most severe form of skin cancer, usually appearing as dark,
irregularly-shaped areas or patches. It is caused by the abnormal growth of melanocytes, and thus may be hard to detect in the earlier stages. It may start spreading to other tissues in the later stages and become fatal.
Non-melanoma cancer is of two types: Basal cell and Squamous cell carcinoma. These are rarely fatal. They may not spread beyond their sites of origin, and may also occur in regions not exposed to the sun, like nail beds and the underside of feet.
Causes of Skin Cancer
Skin cancers may have a variety of causes, including:
1. UV rays- The ultraviolet radiation from the sun consists of UVA and UVB rays that cause damage to our skin and can cause tanning, burning, skin ageing, wrinkling and skin cancer.
2. Genetic susceptibility- An individual may also be more vulnerable to developing skin cancer if there is a family history of such conditions.
3. Fair skin- The presence of lesser quantities of melanin in your skin can mean lesser protection from damaging UV rays. If you tend to tan or burn easily in the sun, you might be at a higher risk for skin cancer and related conditions.
Persisting skin lesions or moles with changing features (size, colour, texture or outlines) are potential signs of skin cancer. Pus-filled or bleeding outgrowths should also not be overlooked.
Prevention from Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is a largely preventable disease, and there are many precautions that you can take to protect yourself. Some of them are-
1. Limiting your exposure to sunlight- Since UV rays can penetrate glass, fog, clouds, and water, it is possible to get sunburnt even on overcast days or while working indoors. It is best to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen if you plan to spend time outdoors with SPF 50 or higher. Reapply your sunscreen every 2-3 hours if you’re swimming.
2. Wearing protective clothing- Try to wear clothes that cover your skin if you’re out during the “peak hours” of 12-5 p.m., also known as the time of the day when UV rays are the most harmful.
3. Dermatological screenings- Schedule an annual screening appointment with your dermatologist where you can get checked for unusual skin lesions or any suspicious growths. The doctor can also help you view hard-to-reach places like your scalp, your back etc.
4. Be informed about risk factors- Apart from basic causes, there are also certain risk factors that may promote abnormal cell growths, like exposure to radiation therapy, contact with certain strains of HPV (human papillomavirus), or immuno-compromising conditions.
Selfcare Skin Checks
Performing self-skin checks, ideally once a month, can help you spot any new changes in your skin and seek timely medical assistance.
To perform a thorough skin-check, stand in front of the mirror in a well-lit room. Go over the skin from the top of your head right down to your toes, and use a hand mirror to view hard-to-see areas. Make a note of any unusual lesions or growths. You may also enlist a family member’s help. Keeping a record of the moles and marks on your skin can aid you to notice new growths faster.
It is important to remember that being empathetic and understanding towards patients can go a long way towards their recovery. Since skin cancer is a less-understood condition in India, it is easy for the patient to be unintentionally excluded or avoided in the society. Encouraging your family members to stay informed and accompanying them to regular check-ups makes a big difference. Skin cancer can easily be prevented if one knows how to take the proper precautions and protective measures. Consult your doctor if you feel doubtful about any new changes in your skin.