UV radiation is made up of UVA and UVB rays that can penetrate the top layers of the skin causing damage to the cells. Skin cancer usually develops in the top or outer layer of the skin and this is the area of attack by UV radiation.

Skin Cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the world. It’s prevalence amongst darker skinned people is lesser, but not absent. Sudden rashes that do not heal or patches on the skin that begin to itch and bleed, or old moles growing bigger and changing in colour need to be shown to a dermatologist immediately. If at all it’s a cancerous growth, early detection improves the chances of it being treated successfully. That’s why it’s essential to have some basic information on skin cancer that will help one identify Red-Flag Symptoms.


Q: How to differentiate a cancerous mole/patch on the skin from a regular one?

Ans: Oncologists around the globe have formulated a simple acronym that can help a lay person identify questionable spots/ moles on their body. It’s called the ABCDE of moles.

  • A stands for ASYMMETRY.

    Common moles are oval or round shaped. Melanomas tend to be asymmetrical which means if you draw a line down the center, both halves will not mirror each other in shape or size.

  • B stands for BORDER.

    This refers to the outer edges of the mole. Melanomas tend to be uneven or notched, unlike the smoother edges of a normal mole.

  • C stands for COLOR.

    A melanoma may have different shades of brown or black. In some cases, as it grows, one may notice red, white or blue spots in it as well.

  • D stands for DIAMETER

    If the mole grows larger than 6 millimetres getting a doctor to check it is advisable.

  • E stands for EVOLVING

    Besides change in colour, shape, size of the mole, if it begins to itchy or bleed – these may also be considered as warning signs.

Q: Why are light skinned people more at risk of skin cancer?

Ans: The skin pigment called melanin is a natural protection against harmful radiation that can damage skin cells and trigger skin cancer. People with light skin do not have this pigment or have it in very less amounts. This puts them at greater risk of exposure to UV radiation in sunlight and hence increases their risk of skin cancer.


Q: What type of Skin Cancer is caused by exposure to sunlight/ UV radiation?

Ans: Basal Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma can be caused by prolonged exposure to sunlight. Basal Cell Carcinoma occurs in the cells just below the skin’s surface. They usually do not spread away from the primary location. Squamous Cell Carcinoma develops in the skin cells at the bottom of the skin’s outermost layer.


Q: What are symptoms of Basal Cell Carcinoma?

Ans: Some common symptoms are:

  • A flat, scaly red patch
  • A small, smooth, shiny or waxy bump that starts bleeding
  • A brown / black raised bump
  • A lesion on the face that bleeds
  • A sore that does not heal


Q: What are symptoms of Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

Ans: Some common symptoms are:

  • A flat, scaly red or brown patch / rash
  • A raised, scaly lump on sun-exposed skin
  • An open sore, a wart or a bump with a central depression
  • A persistent small ulcer on the lips
  • Thickened, scaly skin on the lips


Q: How does UV radiation cause Skin Cancer?

Ans: UV radiation is made up of UVA and UVB rays that can penetrate the top layers of the skin causing damage to the cells. Skin cancer usually develops in the top or outer layer of the skin and this is the area of attack by UV radiation. UVB penetrates the top layer of the skin and damages the cells leading to sunburns. UVA penetrates deeper causing more harm such as genetic damage to cells, photo-ageing and immune-suppression. If the body’s immune system cannot repair the cells damaged by UV radiation, then the cells will begin to divide and grow aggressively and uncontrollably – eventually leading to skin cancer.


Q: What is a Melanoma?

Ans: Melanoma is the more aggressive form of skin cancer. It develops in the melanocytes that give skin its color. And while exposure to UV radiation is a major cause of melanoma unlike other types of skin cancers, melanoma can develop on parts of the body not normally exposed to the sun. What makes Melanoma dangerous is the fact that it spreads fast to other parts of the body such as the lungs, liver, bone and brains. This makes it harder to treat – calling for more aggressive and invasive procedures.


Q: What are common symptoms of Melanoma?

Ans: You need to keep an eye on moles on your body to catch Melanoma before it metastasizes. Look out for:


Q: Does make-up cause skin cancer?

Ans: No, it does not cause skin cancer. However, certain brands of make-up use harsh chemicals that can cause skin damage from prolonged use. This makes the skin prone to sun-damage which can lead to cancer. Hence, try using organic make-up and always cleanse your face thoroughly to remove make-up.


Q: How is Skin cancer treated?

Ans: Skin cancer treatment depends on the area where cancer has developed and the extent to which it has spread. General treatment options are Surgically removing the cancerous cells or using Radiation therapy to remove them or attacking the cancer cells via specialised drugs through Chemotherapy. In some cases, a combination of two or more types of treatment might be required to retard the spread of the cancer.


Q: How can Skin cancer be prevented?

Ans: Since Skin cancer is primarily caused by chronic or excessive exposure to sunlight, be sure to avoid stepping out in midday when it is the hottest. Always use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF to protect against UV-B and UV-A rays when stepping outdoors. Use lip-balm with sun protection as well. Wear protective clothes and accessories: long-sleeved shirts and long pants to protect your arms and legs and a hat and sunglasses to protect your face, eyes and ears.

  • A new mole
  • A mole that changes colour, shape or size
  • A mole that bleeds, itches or causes pain
  • An asymmetric mole, unusually large


Dr.Bhavani Kirubakaran is a Dermatologist specialist
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