Skin Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Skin cancer is a condition in which skin cells experience abnormal growth. The most common area of ​​skin developing cancer is the area most often exposed to sunlight, but cancer can also occur in areas of the skin that are not exposed to sunlight. Check out the characteristics of skin cancer, causes, and complete treatment below.

Causes of Skin Cancer

Most skin cancers are caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays that damage DNA in skin cells. Sunlight contains three types of UV light, including:

  • Ultraviolet A (UVA).
  • Ultraviolet B (UVB).
  • Ultraviolet C (UVC).

other factors can contribute to the risk of skin cancer such as exposure to toxic substances or having a body condition where the immune system is weak.

The following are some of the factors that cause a person at high risk of developing skin cancer, including:

  • White skin

Basically, every person is at risk of developing skin cancer regardless of skin color. However, having less pigment (melanin) in the skin provides less protection from UV radiation damage. If your skin gets sunburned easily, then you are more likely to develop skin cancer than people with darker skin.

  • History of Sunburn

Having one or more blistering sunburn when a child or teenager increases your risk of developing skin cancer as an adult. Even so, burning skin in adulthood is also a risk factor for skin cancer.

  • Tanning

One method that can be done to have dark skin is tanning. However, tanning risks increasing skin cancer. Tanning itself can be done indoors and outdoors. Indoor tanning can be done in a place that has special equipment, while outdoor tanning is by sunbathing.

  • Climatic Conditions

The risk of skin cancer is higher in people who live in sunny climates and are exposed to more sun, than people who live in cooler climates.

In addition, living in a higher place, where the strongest sunlight, also makes you more exposed to solar radiation.

  • Mole

People who have lots of moles or abnormal moles called dysplastic nevi are at increased risk of skin cancer. These abnormal moles look irregular and are generally larger than normal moles. If you have a history of abnormal moles, closely monitor any changes that occur.

  • Precancerous Skin Lesions

Having a skin lesion known as actinic keratosis can increase your risk of developing skin cancer. This precancerous skin growth usually appears as rough and scaly patches whose color varies from brown to dark pink. This condition is most common in the faces, heads and hands of white people whose skin is damaged by sunlight.

  • History of Skin Cancer

If there is a family history of skin cancer, be it a parent or sibling, you may have a higher increased risk of skin cancer. In addition to family history, this disease can also come back to attack you if you yourself have a history of this disease.

  • Weak Immune System

People with weakened immune systems have a greater risk of developing skin cancer. These conditions include people living with HIV/AIDS and those taking immune-suppressing drugs after organ transplants.

  • Exposure to Radiation and Specific Substances

People who receive radiation treatment for skin conditions such as eczema and acne may have an increased risk of skin cancer, especially basal cell carcinoma. Meanwhile, exposure to certain substances such as arsenic can increase the risk of skin cancer.

Types of Skin Cancer

After knowing the cause of skin cancer, another important thing to know is the type of skin cancer. The following are some types of skin cancer, including:

  • Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma starts in basal cells – a type of cells in the skin that produce new skin cells when old cells die. Basal cell carcinoma most commonly occurs in sun-exposed areas of the skin, such as the head and neck.

Basal cell carcinoma is thought to be caused by long-term exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight. Avoiding sunlight and using sunscreen can help protect against basal cell carcinoma.

  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin is usually not life-threatening, although it can be aggressive. Untreated squamous cell carcinoma can grow or spread to other parts of the body, causing serious complications.

Most squamous cell carcinomas occur due to prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, either from sunlight or from tanning. Avoiding UV light helps reduce the risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin and other forms of skin cancer. This type of skin cancer can be found in various parts of the body.

  • Melanoma

Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer, developing in cells (melanocytes) that produce melanin — the pigment that gives skin its color. Apart from the skin, melanomas can also form in the eyes and in rare cases appear in internal organs such as the intestine.

The exact cause of melanoma is unclear, but exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation or tanning lamps increases the risk for developing melanoma. Limiting exposure to UV radiation can help reduce the risk of melanoma. Melanoma can be treated and get good results if detected early.

  • Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer

Non-melanoma skin cancer refers to all types of cancer that occurs in non-melanoma skin, such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Treatment of non-melanoma skin cancer depends on the type of cancer. Skin cancer treatment usually involves surgery to remove cancer cells.

Symptoms of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer develops mainly in areas of skin that are exposed to sunlight, including the scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms, and legs. Skin cancer itself can affect people of all skin colors, including those with darker skin.

When melanoma occurs in people with dark skin color, the condition is more likely to occur in areas not normally exposed to sunlight, such as the palms and soles of the feet.

The following are the characteristics of skin cancer by type, including:

1. Symptoms of Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma usually occurs in areas of your body that are exposed to sunlight, such as the neck or face. Symptoms of this type of skin cancer are the appearance of lumps like pearls, brown lesions, and scabs.

2. Symptoms of Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma most often occurs in areas of the body that are exposed to sunlight such as the face, ears, and hands. People with darker skin are more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma in areas that are not often exposed to sunlight. Characteristics of this type of skin cancer can be seen from the appearance of red nodules and lesions with a scaly surface.

3. Symptoms of Melanoma

Melanoma can develop anywhere in all parts of the body. In people with darker skin color, melanoma tends to occur in the palms, soles of the feet, or under the fingernails and feet.

Characteristics of this type of skin cancer, among others:

  • Large brown spots with darker spots.
  • Moles that change color, size or bleed.
  • Small lesions with irregular borders and parts that appear red, pink, white, blue or blue-black.
  • Lesions are painful with itching or burning sensation.
  • Dark lesions on the palms, soles of the feet, tips of the fingers or toes, or on the mucous membranes lining the mouth, nose, vagina and anus.

In addition to the characteristics of skin cancer as above, other symptoms of skin cancer are:

  • Kaposi’s sarcoma. This rare form of skin cancer develops in the blood vessels of the skin and causes red or purple patches on the skin or mucous membranes. This characteristic feature of skin cancer often occurs in those whose immune systems are weak such as AIDS sufferers, consumption of drugs that suppress the body’s natural immunity, and someone who has undergone an organ transplant.
  • Merkel cell carcinoma. This characteristic feature of skin cancer causes shiny nodules right under the skin and hair follicles. This characteristic feature of skin cancer is most often found on the head, neck and other body parts.
  • Sebaceous gland carcinoma. This unusual and aggressive skin cancer originates from the oil glands in the skin. Characteristic of skin cancer usually appears as a nodule that is hard and painless and can develop anywhere. However, this symptom of skin cancer also often occurs on the eyelids.

When is the Right Time to See a Doctor?

Immediately to the doctor if you see any changes in the skin that makes you worry. Not all skin changes are caused by skin cancer. The doctor will investigate the skin changes to determine the cause.

Diagnosis of Skin Cancer

When diagnosing skin cancer, the doctor can do:

  • Skin Examination

The doctor can look at the skin to determine whether the skin changes are likely to be skin cancer. Further tests may be needed to confirm the diagnosis.

  • Biopsy

Biopsy can determine whether you have skin cancer and what type of skin cancer you have.

Determine the Stage of Skin Cancer

If the doctor says you have skin cancer, you may undergo additional tests to determine the level (stage) of skin cancer. Doctors can perform other tests such as MRI, CT scan, or lymph node biopsy, to see the spread of cancer cells.

The following are the stages of skin cancer:

  • Stage 0

This condition indicates that cancer cells are still in the same place and have not spread beyond the epidermis.

  • Stage I

This condition indicates that cancer cells have spread to the skin layer below the epidermis with a size of no more than 2 cm.

  • Stage II

This condition indicates that the cancer has not spread to other tissues, but with an increasingly large size up to more than 2 cm.

  • Stage III

This condition indicates the cancer has spread to the surrounding tissue and has a size of more than 3 cm.

  • Stage IV

This condition has spread to other tissues that are far from the origin of the cancer and have a size of more than 3 cm.

Treatment for Skin Cancer

Treatment options for skin cancer vary, depending on size, type, depth and location. Some skin cancer treatments that can be done, including:

  • Freezing

Doctors can destroy skin cancer by freezing it. This method is done with the help of liquid nitrogen (cryosurgery). Dead tissue will flake when it melts.

  • Excision Operations

This type of treatment may be suitable for all types of skin cancer. The doctor will cut the cancerous tissue and healthy skin around it. In some cases, extensive excision can be recommended to remove normal skin around the tumor.

  • Mohs Surgery 

This procedure is performed for larger, recurrent or difficult-to-treat skin cancers, such as basal cell squamous carcinoma. During Mohs surgery, the doctor will remove layers of skin growth layer by layer, examining each layer under a microscope, until there are no abnormal cells left.

This procedure allows cancer cells to be removed without taking excessive amounts of healthy surrounding skin.

  • Curettage

Doctors can remove layers of cancer cells using a circular knife (curette). In a variety of these procedures, liquid nitrogen can be used to freeze the base and edges of the area being treated.

This simple and quick procedure can be used to treat basal cell cancer or thin squamous cell cancer.

  • Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy energy rays such as X-rays to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy can be an option when the cancer cannot completely disappear during surgery.

  • Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. But treatment is only limited to the top skin layer using creams or lotions that contain anti-cancer agents

Systemic chemotherapy can be used to treat skin cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.

  • Photodynamic Therapy

This treatment destroys skin cancer cells with a combination of laser beams and drugs that make cancer cells sensitive to light.

  • Biological Therapy

Biological therapy uses the body’s immune system to kill cancer cells.

Skin Cancer Prevention

Skin cancer is a disease that can be prevented by avoiding the triggers that cause tumors to develop. Prevention strategies include protection from the sun by using protective clothing, and avoid sun exposure from 9am to 3pm.

Other steps to reduce the risk of skin cancer, include:

  • Apply sunscreen as often as possible. Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 before and during sun exposure. Choose products that block UVA and UVB rays.
  • If your activities require prolonged sun exposure, wear long arms and a wide hat.
  • Perform skin checks to the doctor regularly. Self-examination increases your chances of finding skin cancer early.


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