Definition of skin cancer: Abnormal growth of skin cells from a mole especially found on the Head, Neck and Back.
TYPES OF SKIN CANCER:
- Sun Spots
- Basal Cell Cancer
- Squamous Cell Cancer
- Melanoma Cancer
- Sunspots are hyperpigmentation of the skin cells, due to overexposure to sun. They do not sit on top of the skin, but grow in it. They are smooth with similar texture to the rest of the skin. These are similar to scars on the skin caused by injury from the sun.
- Basal cell cancer is mostly found on the face and neck. They very rarely become malignant or spread to other areas of the body. The basal cell is the area in the skin where new cells are produced to replace old cells that die. The basal cell is normally white or light brown in colour with scaly texture. They are not as dangerous, but if left untreated can produce ugly scarring.
- Squamous cell Cancer is on the skin and is flat and red/ brown in colour. It is scaly in nature. This type of skin cancer is more severe than Basal Cell and if left unattended can spread to other areas of the body like Lungs, lymph glands. The cancer is slow growing and appears on head, neck, ears, lips and back.
- Melanoma cancer is the most dangerous of the 4 types. It presents itself as raised lesion that can be quite large. The colours range from red, brown, black and yellow. The edges are uneven and blend into the surrounding healthy cells. This cancer drains into the lymph glands under the arms and in the groin. Melanoma, if left unattended can spread to the lungs, brain and liver and cause death.
CAUSES OF SKIN CANCER
The main cause of skin cancer is over exposure to UV light from the sun. It causes a change in the DNA of the cell and affects the Melanin, which is the pigment forming section of the skin. These cells hyper accelerate and overgrowth develops.
The cause can also be due to hereditary factors and preventative measures must be taken at an early age. But the above process can also follow if left unattended.
To identify these different types, especially the Melanoma, a full biopsy sample across the lesion must be taken and sent to the Pathology lab for testing . They will identify if it is malignant (cancer spreading) or not and also give indication of how deep the cancer is growing.
Sun spots and Basal cell are treated with Burning the lesion with liquid Nitrogen solution by the doctor. With smaller basal cell lesion the doctor would also use a cream call Efudix to destroy the abnormal cells that make up the lesion.
Squamous Cell are usually cut out by a surgeon or dermatologist. Usually not necessary for radiation. If this type of cancer is left untreated, it can spread and eventually develop into Melanoma which are Malignant.
Melanoma cancer is malignant and must be removed to prevent any spreading. They drain in the lymph glands, so these have to be monitored by sonar and PET scans. This also gives the surgeon a good indication if he must remove these infected glands as well. If the lesion is more than 0.5mm deep, the doctor would recommend radiation after the lesion is removed. They cut out 1cm beyond the edge of the melanoma as well as 1cm deep, to ensure that all the cancer has been removed.
The treatment does not end there. The doctor will recommend a mole mapping procedure every 6 months. They photograph all Moles over the whole body and is stored on a computer to be used to identify any changes that might occur in the future.
There are follow up visits to the oncologist and dermatologist every 3-6 months for at least 18months to check that there has been no further spreading or new lesions
Do not spend long periods of time in the sun, even with protection, especially during 11.00 am until 3.30 pm. Rather go out before and again after these times.
If you are swimming, put on a good sunblock with a factor of 50 plus. Remember to replace after each swim and if sweating to replace after every hour in the sun. It’s a good idea to wear a “second skin” top when swimming as it blocks out the UV rays.
Always wear a hat, especially one that covers the ears and the back of the neck. Turning up collars also helps. Check your body regularly for any new growths or changes in existing ones. Get a friend or family member to check areas like back and neck where you can’t check properly. See the doctor asap if any changes have been noticed.
Please take the South African sun rays very seriously. Only once you have had a skin cancer scare, will you realise how dangerous it can be. Start your children at an early age to be aware of the UV rays and the dangers caused by them, and to cover up, add sunblock and stay out during dangerous times.
Article by Brian Van Haght, M-KEM Pharmacist