Precancerous Lesions can appear on any part of the body. They are often rough, scaly patches that range in color from brown to dark pink. These lesions can be warning signs for cancer and should not be ignored
Cancer continues to baffle us in the way it attacks and stakes claims of the human body. In spite of the availability of top-notch treatment, it happens way too often that the individual allows the cancer to advance (ignorant to symptoms) to such an extent that treatment is almost futile. Hence it is imperative to watch for the right symptoms, know if you are at risk and consult with your doctor about early cancer screening. May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, so let’s start at the basics.
SKIN CANCER DEFINITION
Skin Cancer occurs when the skin cells grow and multiply at an abnormal rate. This usually originates from the cells of the epidermis or the top most layer of the skin. Most often skin cancer develops on regions of the skin exposed to sunlight, but it does not need to be the case always.
COMMON RISK FACTORS FOR SKIN CANCER
- ULTRA VIOLET RAYS: Exposure to UV rays puts you at high risk for Skin Cancer. One can be exposed to UV rays in sunlight – and risk increases in areas of elevation and the equatorial region where sunlight exposure is more intense.
- FAIR SKIN: Having light skin means that the person has less melanin, which means less protection from damaging UV rays, making him/ her more susceptible to skin cancers.
- SUNBURNS: Individuals with a childhood history of blisters caused by sunburns have an increased risk of skin cancer.
- MOLES: Having moles, especially larger, abnormal-looking ones means the person must be on alert. The abnormally large ones may develop into skin cancer.
- FAMILY OR PERSONAL HISTORY OF SKIN CANCER
- COMPROMISED/ SUPPRESSED IMMUNE SYSTEM: Individuals with medical conditions such as HIV/AIDS and those taking drugs that suppress their immunity, are immuno-compromised. This makes them more vulnerable to skin cancer.
- EXPOSURE TO HARMFUL RADIATION & SUBSTANCES SUCH AS ARSENIC
- PRECANCEROUS LESIONS: These lesions can appear on any part of the body. They are often rough, scaly patches that range in color from brown to dark pink. These lesions can be warning signs for cancer and should not be ignored
SKIN CANCER SYMPTOMS
- Actinic Keratosis: These small, scaly patches are caused by too much sun, and commonly occur on the head, neck, or hands, but can be found elsewhere.
- Actinic Cheilitis (Farmer’s Lip): It usually appears on the lower lips as scaly patches or persistent roughness of the lips.
- Cutaneous Horns: This is a funnel-shaped growth that extends from a red base on the skin and can grow a few millimetres in length.
- Moles: The ones that are irregularly shaped, are larger than the size of a pencil eraser and contain many colors are the moles to pay extra attention to.
TYPES OF SKIN CANCER
There are three common types of Skin Cancer:
- BASAL CELL CARCINOMA: It is the most common type of Skin Cancer. Basal cell carcinoma occurs in parts of the body that are most exposed to the sun, such as your neck or face. It is a flat, flesh-colored or brown scar-like lesion or as a waxy bump. A sore that heals and returns, is definitely something worth checking out. It has a tendency to grow into the surrounding tissue and since it does not have a well-defined border, it can be challenging to treat.
- SQUAMOUS CELL CARCINOMA: It is most common in immunosuppressed people. Fair-skinned people tend to develop squamous cell carcinoma in parts of the body that are most exposed to the sun, such as your neck or face. While those with darker skin tend to develop it on skin regions least exposed to sunlight. It may appear as a firm, red nodule or a flat lesion with a scaly, crusted surface.
- MELANOMA: This is less common than the previous two but more dangerous. It originates from the pigment-producing skin cells (melanocytes). It can occur at any part of the body, whether exposed to sunlight or not and can affect people of any skin tone. Melanoma signs to watch out for: A) a large brownish spot with darker speckles or B) a mole that changes in appearance or C) a small lesion with an irregular border and portions that appear red, pink, white, blue or blue-black. Dark lesions on the palms, soles, fingertips or toes, or on mucous membranes lining your mouth, nose, vagina or anus need to be checked out immediately by the doctor.
Other less common types of cancer are:
- KAPOSI SARCOMA that develops in the skin’s blood vessels.
- MERKEL CELL CARCINOMA that causes firm, shiny nodules just beneath the skin and in hair follicles.
- SEBACEOUS GLAND CARCINOMA is an aggressive cancer that originates in the oil glands in the skin, and appear as hard, painless nodules.
Most often skin cancer can be prevented and that too by making simple lifestyle changes such as:
- reducing exposure to UV radiation in sunlight by wearing proper, protective clothes and using sunscreen lotions whenever stepping outdoors.
- The mid-day sun is the worst – so just stay indoors.
- Avoid tanning-beds – it’s absolutely unnecessary exposure to radiation.
- Be wary of medication that can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight
- Visit a doctor if you notice a blemish on your skin that has suddenly appeared whether it hurts or not.
Staying in touch with your body, will alert you to any change. There’s no harm in getting a little mole or rash tested. Most cancers are treatable when detected in its early stages. Stay ahead of the disease, before it overtakes you.
Dr. K. BHAVANI
CONSULTANT – DERMATOLOGIST AND AESTHETIC PHYSICIAN
MBBS., MD(DVL).,FRGUHS., FELLOW IN COSMETOLOGY