Cancer forms when cells divide out of control. When these cells divide without any checks or balances, they can start to crowd out vital organs and release substances that can create an imbalance in the body’s regulatory system. Almost every possible cell line in the body is prone to cancer. The longer people live, the more opportunities there are for something to go wrong. If an error occurs during cell division, cancer can result. One of the most common types of cancer is skin cancer.
What is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is a mutation in the DNA coding of the cells that make up the skin. DNA forms the basis of all life and is a manual that instructs a cell how to function and operate. DNA is translated into proteins which provide cells with their function. Some of these cellular proteins tell cells when to divide and when to rest. If the DNA of these proteins is damaged, the proteins may not form correctly. Without these proteins telling the cells what to do, the cells could divide uncontrollably. If this occurs in the skin, this is called skin cancer.
How does Skin Cancer Develop?
There are many different ways that someone could develop skin cancer. Because the skin is exposed to sunlight, cancer could develop from ultraviolet radiation. This is the radiation that comes from the sun and could damage the DNA of the skin cells. When this radiation strikes the skin, it could cause breaks in the DNA of the cells. There are other ways that skin cancer can develop as well such as exposure from toxic chemicals which can damage the DNA of the skin and lead to cancer. Other times, skin cancer comes about simply because of age. As people live longer, their cells go through more divisions. At the ends of the DNA are protective coverings called telomeres. These telomeres are degraded as cells are replicated. Eventually, cells run out of telomeres and the DNA strands themselves become damaged. This can lead to cancer. Also, people with a low immune system such as those who have had an organ transplant (kidney, heart, lung) or those with a history of lymphoma are at high risk.
Where is Skin Cancer Most Commonly Found?
Like other types of cancer, there are many different varieties of skin cancer that somebody could develop. Some of the most common locations for skin cancer include:
Squamous Cell Skin Cancer: These types of cancer are most commonly located in areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun. Examples of common locations include the head, neck, and arms; however, squamous and basal cell carcinoma can develop in other areas as well. These types of cancers are typically very treatable and can be removed using radiation therapy or surgery. It is rare for basal cell cancers to spread but can slowly grow. Squamous cancers are usually easily treated but occasionally can act more aggressively, requiring more aggressive measures to treat.
Melanoma: Melanoma is another type of skin cancer that many people have heard of. Even though this type of skin cancer is less common, it can be more serious. This cancer has a high metastasis rate and can occur in almost any location in the body. Furthermore, even after the cancer has been removed the first time, there is a chance it could return.
Lymphoma: Lymphoma can occur in other areas of the body; however, lymphoma of the skin is relatively rare. The lymph nodes are a part of the body’s immune system and help to get rid of bacteria and viruses. Lymphoma is the name given to cancers that come from lymphocytes, which are white blood cells that belong the immune system.
Kaposi’s Sarcoma: This is a relatively rare type of cancer that develops in people who have a weakened immune system such as those with HIV. This type of skin cancer is caused by human herpesvirus 8 and can appear purple, red, or brown. Some Kaposi Sarcomas are flat while others are raised.
What are the Symptoms of Skin Cancer?
Depending on the type of skin cancer, the symptoms can vary from person to person. For some people, they may notice a spot on their body that hasn’t been there before. Some of the signs to look out for include:
Symmetry: Types of skin cancer can have asymmetry. The spot may not look uniform. If this is the case, it could be a sign of skin cancer.
Borders: If the borders are irregular, it could be a sign of skin cancer. Moles and other non-cancerous spots typically have uniform borders.
Color: Non-cancerous lesions are typically a single color. Multi-colored lesions should be evaluated by a professional.
Diameter: The larger the lesion is, the more likely it is to be cancer. Anything over 6mm should be evaluated by a professional.
Enlarging: Anything that is changing in size should be evaluated by a professional. Moles and non-cancerous lesions may be present for many years without getting bigger.
Diagnosis and Treatment
If someone is concerned about a spot on their skin, it should be checked out by a professional. Some of the tests that might be performed include:
Biopsy: One of the tests that will be performed is a biopsy. In this test, a piece of the lesion will be removed and looked at under a microscope. The cells can be analyzed and tested for various types of cancer.
Stains: The biopsy sample will also be tested with various stains. These stains are used to help cancerous cells “light up” under a microscope and make a diagnosis.
Blood Tests: If there is concern that the cancer has spread, the doctor may draw some blood to look for laboratory markers of cancer.
Scans: CT scans, MRIs, PET scans may all be helpful to evaluate aggressive lesions, but usually are not necessary.
The treatment of skin cancer will vary by type. It is important for everyone to discuss their case with a trained medical professional on an individual basis. SERO offers radiation therapy to treat non-melanoma skin cancers. Radiation can cure most skin cancers, often without the need for surgery or chemotherapy. Advantages of radiation therapy is minimized scarring, short and painless treatments, mild side effects and more. Learn more about radiation therapy to treat non-melanoma skin cancer here.