To explain what are the symptoms of skin cancer and how to detect it, we must take into account the different types. These are: non-melanoma types (basal cell and squamous-cell carcinomas), or melanomas.
Skin cancer diagnosis established under the microscope, examining a sample obtain through biopsy or excision of the lesion. Depending on the type, skin cancer is relatively easy to treat with early detection. Also, there are in development artificial intelligence applications that allow a high degree of accuracy in diagnosing images of skin lesions.
Symptoms of skin cancer: Basal cell carcinoma
BCC, the most common of the skin cancers, is a slow-growing type of cancer that rarely metastasizes. From 5 to 10% of basal cell carcinomas show aggressive behavior, invading and destroying the skin and surrounding tissues, sometimes reaching bone or cartilage. Although in advanced cases it can produce significant scarring and disfigurement, it is rare that they cause death.
What are the first symptoms, and how does it start?
These lesions usually begin as small bumps on the skin, often covered with small, superficial blood vessels. Sometimes they take the appearance of a small ulcer that does not heal and secretes yellowish fluid that forms a crust. When the skin around these lesions is stretched, basal cell carcinoma has a pearly gray appearance with small visible blood vessels.
Regarding BCC, there are five typical characteristics, which are the most common. Often, two or more of these features appear in the same tumor:
- An ulcer that bleeds or has a crusty, yellowish fluid and that does not heal after several weeks.
- A red or irritated area. It often occurs on the chest, shoulders, or extremities. Sometimes it is scabbed over and may itch or be sore. At other times, it just persists without any cancer symptoms on skin.
- A reddish, pinkish, or whitish-gray, pearly lump or nodule. Occasionally, it can appear in brown or black tones; especially in people with dark hair, and can be mistaken for a mole.
- A pinkish growth with a slightly raised, rounded edge and a crusted indentation in the middle.
- An area that appears to be a scar, whitish, yellowish or waxy, with poorly defined edges. The skin appears shiny and tight. This may be a sign of an aggressive form of this cancer.
Sometimes basal cell carcinoma takes on the appearance of non-cancerous skin lesions such as psoriasis or eczema.
Basal Cell carcinoma usually appears in parts of the body frequently exposed to the sun. These can be: face, scalp, neck, the upper V of the chest, and the upper part of the back. Less frequently it appears on the upper arms, hands, or legs.
Symptoms of skin cancer: Squamous-cell carcinoma
The second most common type of skin cancer. Derived from the squamous cell of the skin that form the epidermis, in the USA about 200,000 new cases are diagnosed every year and about 1,900 deaths are attributed to it. Also of slow growth rate, these tumors invade and metastasize if left untreated. They have similar distribution as BCC although they tend to be more frequent than BCC in arms and hands.
SCC tend to manifest as inflamed, reddened, scaly or crusty growth, sore or tender. Occasionally they can ulcerate, bleed or crust, not healing over time. They can take the shape of a wart, a reddened patch or an ulcer, with crust or bleeding. Occasionally they can present as a lump with central depression than bleeds.
SCC have an association with prolonged exposure to UV radiation (and we can get it from tanning beds). Additionally, they have an association with radiotherapy used to treat other cancers, infection with human papilloma virus, chemical toxins, immunosuppressive medications and low antioxidant diets.
Two variants of SCC that deserve separate mention
- Scalp SCC presents in bald areas of the scalp, is unusual but tends to be the most aggressive form of SCC.
- The other variant is penile cancer. 95% of cancer in the penis is SCC and behave similarly to SCC in other areas of the skin. The therapeutic options for this cancer are the same as for other SCC and include, depending on how advanced, partial or complete amputation of the penis. The same as the other lesions described in detail here, there is a topical treatment available that is highly effective and safe for this type of cancer and that is described in detail further on, Curaderm BCC.
Are there other non-melanoma skin cancers?
There are other types of skin cancers (non-melanomas) that are rare. These are Merkel Cell carcinoma, Kaposy’s sarcoma and cutaneous T cell lymphoma. These tumors biological behavior and therapeutics are different from the other more common types mentioned before. Lastly, metastatic tumors from other cancers can appear in the skin. These are not considered skin cancer.
Actinic or solar keratosis
Actinic keratosis are benign lesions considered the same as non-melanoma skin cancers due to their risk of malignant transformation into SCC. Consequently, they carry the same treatment recommendations as non-melanoma skin cancers. The most common manifestations of actinic keratosis are thick, scaly or crusty patches of skin associated with chronic solar damaged skin. These lesions are extremely common in people of fair skin and advanced age. Available therapeutic options are the same as for non-melanoma skin cancers. As mentioned previously, there is a topical therapeutic option with Curaderm BCC. That is highly effective and safe as shown in several published studies. (See Single blind controled clinical trial Actinic keratosis – Bill E. Cham 2013).
Actinic keratosis examples:
Symptoms of skin cancer: Melanoma
This type of skin cancer represents about 4% of skin cancers and has a biological behavior that is different from the others. For this reason, BCC and SCC are non-melanoma skin cancers. And for other part, melanomas tend to rapid growth and early metastasis. It means that these are much more aggressive than other types of skin cancers and potentially fatal.
Melanomas originate in melanocytes, skin cells that make melanin, the skin pigment. They can appear in any part of the body where melanocytes are present. Melanocytes can be in the skin, intestine and the eye.
The most common initial melanoma symptoms are: Significant changes to an existing mole or the appearance of a new unusual looking mole type lesion. Melanoma does not always look like a mole. It has irregular borders and color in a pigmented skin lesion can be indication of melanoma.
Melanoma treatment in its early stage involve surgical excision. In more advanced stages resection includes regional lymph nodes, chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy with biologicals.
Continue with: What treatments are available for skin cancers?