Skin, the largest organ of the human body, protects us from infections, injuries and helps to modulate the body temperature. Also, the organ stores water and fat and is responsible for producing vitamin D. You might have studied in your school that skin is made up of three layers, i.e., the epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis. As we know, the epidermis is the outermost layer of the skin, while the dermis and hypodermis are the inner layer of the skin and the deep layer of the fat, respectively.
The abnormal growth of skin cells is known as skin cancer. It generally develops on skin exposed to the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. You would be surprised to learn that more than 3 million people in the United States are diagnosed with skin cancer, making it the country’s most common type of cancer. If found at an early stage, the disease can be treated with medication, procedures provided by a dermatologist (a medical doctor who deals with skin-related problems), or a surgeon.
Primarily, there are four types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, Merkel cell cancer, and melanoma, but basal and squamous cell cancer are the most common types. Let’s find out more about these diseases.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is another common type of cancer that develops in the basal cells ( the round cells found in the lower epidermis). Studies reveal that 80% of skin cancers develop from basal cancer cells. The basal cell skin cancer generally develops on the neck and head while also being found anywhere on the skin. Furthermore, the disease is usually caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays or develops in people who have taken radiation therapy many years ago. Basal cell carcinoma grows relatively slowly and hardly spreads to other parts of the body.
Symptoms of Basal Cell Carcinoma
A change in the skin might be the first sign of the presence of basal cancer cells. The changes may include a bump or sore that won’t heal. The following can be a few symptoms of the disease:
- A translucent skin-colored bump: The bump can be either white or pink on fair skin, while the bump generally looks brown or shiny black on dark skin. You also might be able to see blood vessels. Sometimes, the bump may bleed.
- Lesions: A brown, black, or blue lesion can appear with a slightly raised translucent border.
- Flat and scaly spots: Such patches can be seen with raised edges. Also, they can grow quite large over a period of time.
- Scar-like lesion: A whitish scar-like lesion without any proper border can also be an essential sign of basal cell carcinoma.
Causes of Basal Cell Carcinoma
Damage in the DNA cells is generally caused by the ultraviolet rays found in sunlight, tanning lamps, and beds. Several reasons result in the growth of the disease; these factors can be:
- Radiation therapy
- Exposure to arsenic
- Problems caused by infections, tattoos, vaccines, and scars
- Chronic irritant skin conditions
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
The epidermis (outermost layer of the skin) consists of flat, scale-like cells known as squamous cells. This type of cancer primarily develops in the middle and outer layers of the skin. Studies reveal that around 20% of skin cancers develop from these cells. The cancer is caused by sun exposure; thus, it may be diagnosed on several skin parts. Furthermore, squamous cell carcinoma can also be developed on burnt skin, affected by chemicals, or exposed to x-rays. Generally, the cancer is found on lips, skin outside the mouth, anus, and vagina, while only 2 to 5% of squamous skin cancer spreads to other parts of the body.
Symptoms Of Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Signs and symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma generally include:
- A small red protuberance or nodule
- An open sore with a scaly crust
- A new bump on an old scar or ulcer
- Scaly patches on the lips that may develop into an open sore
- Rough patches inside the mouth
- Red bumps on or in your anus or genitals
Causes Of Squamous Cell Carcinoma
The mutations that occur in the skin cell DNA causes skin cancer. Such changes cause abnormal cells to multiply uncontrollably. When this occurs in squamous cells, it gives rise to squamous cell cancer. DNA mutations are generally caused by UV radiation found in the sun, tanning lamps, and beds.
As we read, exposure to UV radiation increases the risk of cancer. Still, it is pretty shocking to know that less exposure to sunlight or tanning lamps also increases the risk of squamous cell carcinoma.
Studies also reveal that people with a weak immune system are likely to develop skin cancer. Radiation therapy also increases the risk of squamous cell carcinoma.
Severity Of These Cancers
As we know, both squamous and basal cell carcinoma are the most common types of skin cancer. Unlike squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell cancer is rarely deadly and remains confined to a particular area. Based on several studies, the basal cell carcinoma survival rate is 100% for cases that have not spread to nearby sites.
While talking about squamous cell carcinoma, the disease sometimes spreads to the nearby organs and destroys healthy tissue. Also, the condition may be fatal sometimes. If detected early, the five-year squamous cell carcinoma survival rate is 99%. Even if the cancer is spread to the nearby organs, the squamous cell carcinoma treatment can be done through a combination of surgery and radiation treatment.
Cancer indeed is one of the lethal diseases one would have ever known, but if one takes certain measures, the risk of the disease can be reduced. Following are a few preventive measures one should always take.
- Avoid sun exposure: People living in the United States are generally more exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. The rays are strongest between 10 am to 3 pm. You should avoid going out during these hours and try to schedule indoor meetings if possible.
- Use of sunscreen: Sunscreen plays a very significant role as it fights the UV rays. A sunscreen with an SPF of about 30 should be applied even on cloudy days. The cream can be used twice a day.
- Use of protective clothing: Cover your skin with tightly woven cloths during sunny days. A broad-brimmed hat can also be a great option.
- Refrain the use of tanning beds: Many people generally don’t know tanning beds emit ultraviolet rays that cause cancer.
- Regular checkups: Examining yourself and regular checkups can help you identify changes in your skin. Consult a doctor if you find a new mole, bump, or nodule on your skin.
To know more about basal or squamous cell carcinoma, please visit the University Cancer Centers website. UCC is known to provide the best possible cancer treatment with the use of the latest technology. Physicians at the University Cancer Centers educate you on your entire medical journey.