How to spot early skin cancer signs, and who is at risk?
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
Basal cell carcinoma is a very common skin cancer type, yet at the same time it has good prognosis. It is a locally malignant cancer, which means that it can spread to and destroy nearby tissues, however it cannot metastasize to other parts of the body. This skin cancer type doesn’t cause pain and it develops mainly in the top part of the head – forehead, temples, nose, eyelids. There are various clinical forms of this type of skin cancer.
Symptoms – you should see a doctor if you notice any of these signs on your face:
- non-healing lesions,
- ulcerative lesions,
- bleeding lesions,
- growths with pearly edges,
- scars which appear without any known reason.
Sun exposure may be a cause of basal cell carcinoma, however this skin cancer type can also develop on skin which has not been exposed to sunlight. Other risk factors include:
- exposure to other types of radiation,
- carcinogenic factors, such as arsenic compounds,
- chronic skin damage (scars, ulcers),
- immune disorders.
People with a fair complexion are also at a higher risk of developing this skin cancer type.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
Squamous cell carcinoma usually develops on the border of skin and mucous membranes – lower lip, the nose area, near the reproductive organs.
- sharply-bordered red thickened areas or lumps,
- swelling of the base and raised edges of a skin change,
- excessively calloused tumour-like lesions,
- deep ulceration,
- non-healing bleeding with no known cause,
- rapid growth of a lesion.
This type of skin cancer may be caused by photochemotherapy, a HPV infection or carcinogenic factors such as tobacco or arsenic. People who take medication which reduces the immune system’s activity and genetically predisposed individuals are also at a higher risk of developing this skin cancer type. Other risk factors include:
- exposition to sunlight and other types of radiation,
- scars (mainly those caused by burns),
- earlier occurrence of radiation dermatitis, lupus erythematosus or acrodermatitis chronica atrophicans.
Melanoma is the most malignant type of skin cancer.
Melanoma can be identified by the occurrence of atypical moles and birthmarks. These skin changes have a different shape than oval/round and a non-uniform colour. Their edges are jagged or merge with the skin. The diameter of these atypical skin changes is larger than 6mm, while their height is minimum 5mm.
The more atypical skin changes, the higher the chance of developing melanoma. Having just one atypical mole or birthmark doubles the risk of melanoma, while having three atypical marks increases the risk by 3-6 times.
Also at a higher risk of developing melanoma are people who:
- have many melanocytic skin changes,
- have ginger hair and freckles,
- have skin phototype I or II (skin susceptible to burns),
- had suffered from sunburn before turning 15.
Genetic factors are also significant for developing this skin cancer type – a family history of melanoma increases the risk by 12 times.
Written by Maja Kochanowska, translated by Małgorzata Korzeniewska.
Marcin Śniadecki “The criteria of diagnosis and early symptoms of oncological diseases”, via Medica, Gdańsk 2015.