An introduction to skin cancer
By definition, skin cancer is an abnormal growth of cells in the epidermis (the top layer of the skin). Skin cancer forms when the skin experiences irreversible DNA damage, causing cells to mutate and rapidly multiply into malignant tumours. Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV rays) from the sun, and artificial sources like tanning beds, are common triggers of skin cancer. So as one would expect, it is very common, and affects millions of people around the globe. If caught early, though, treatment can reduce and even eliminate the skin cancer entirely, enabling the patient to resume their normal quality of life.
The most common types of skin cancer
Basal cell carcinoma
The most common form of skin cancer, basal cell carcinomas typically form in areas frequently exposed to sunlight, like the face, ears, neck, scalp, shoulders and back. This type of skin cancer arises from the skin’s basal cells (outermost layer), and can be locally destructive if left untreated, spreading to other areas of the skin.
Squamous cell carcinoma
Occurring in the squamous cells of the outermost layer of the skin, squamous cell carcinomas also arise in areas subject to frequent sun exposure, including the ears, face, scalp, neck and hands. Wrinkled skin and sunspots are also common areas where this type of skin cancer can develop. It can also metastasize if left undetected.
Melanomas develop from melanocytes (pigment-producing skin cells). Melanomas typically resemble moles, and can sometimes arise from them. Unlike other types of skin cancer, melanomas can develop anywhere on the body, even in places that don’t receive direct sunlight exposure. Melanomas are the most dangerous type of skin cancer, though can be effectively treated if caught early enough.
Merkel cell carcinoma
Rare and very aggressive, Merkel cell carcinomas form as firm, painless lesions or nodules on areas of the body exposed to direct sunlight. Research indicates that this type of skin cancer begins in Merkel cells at the base of the epidermis, affecting the head, neck, and eyelids most commonly. Merkel cell carcinomas are likely to recur and metastasize to other parts of the body, so early detection is imperative in the treatment process.
Dermatological skin cancer screening
A skin cancer screening is a visual examination of the skin. It involves Dr Noks checking the whole body, including the scalp, for any signs of skin cancer. She examines any moles, birthmarks or patches of skin that appear unusual in some way. The abnormality may be in colour, size, texture, or a number of these factors. If the doctor has any concerns about the health of your skin, she may refer you to a specialist or treatment centre.
Do you need a holistic skin assessment?
If you have noticed an abnormality on your skin, don’t leave it to sort itself out. Visit our practice for a professional skin assessment, and Dr Noks will advise a course of action should one be necessary for your specific skin concern.