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SKIN CANCER

What is skin cancer?
How is it caused?
What are the symptoms?
How is it diagnosed?
What is the treatment?
 
Tuesday, 01 September 2009
Written by : DoctorNDTV Team
 
What is skin cancer?
What is skin cancer?Skin cancer is a condition in which there is an uncontrolled cancerous multiplication of skin cells. The skin is the body’s shield against most foreign materials and is made up of many layers – the outermost layer called the epidermis and the next layer is called the dermis. Skin cancer usually originates in the cells of the epidermis called the basal cells.
How is it caused?
How is it caused?The main cause of skin cancer is excessive exposure to the harmful ultraviolet radiation of the sun. The sun rays emits ultraviolet rays that are harmful to the body. They cause changes in the cell structure making them replicate in abnormal numbers. However, skin cancer does not present with immediate symptoms. It is usually evident after the age of 40 years when a person has been exposed to these harmful rays for a long time. Skin that has been sunburned several times is more prone to cancer since cells lose their ability to repair themselves.

Apart from this risk factor, skin cancer may also have a genetic cause. It is more common in people with fair skins and prone to freckles (small red spots frequently present on the skin of Westerners). Exposure to chemicals like arsenic also increases a person’s risk of developing skin cancer.
What are the symptoms?
What are the symptoms?The earliest and most common symptom of skin cancer is a change in the colour of a particular area on the skin. Usually on a part of the skin frequently exposed to sunlight. This discolouration then spreads fast to other areas of the skin. There may also be a change in the shape of an already existing mole; in some cases, a new growth which looks like a mole may be seen. This mole-like growth may be ringed with a border. In some cases, the skin in the affected area may itch and appear bruised or bleed.

The patient may also notice that the skin looks waxy. On touching, some lumps may be detected and the area around the lumps may become discoloured.
How is it diagnosed?
How is it diagnosed?Biopsy of the affected area is the only way to confirm the presence of skin cancer. In this procedure, a small piece of the affected area is removed for laboratory testing. This can be done under a local anaesthetic. The doctor then checks for the extent of spread of the cancer and if it is believed to have spread, X-rays of the chest and lungs may be ordered.
What is the treatment?
What is the treatment?

Surgery is the most common and the simplest way to treat skin cancer. The affected area along with some of the surrounding normal tissue is removed. If the cancer has spread to other areas, chemotherapy may be required. In this, the cancer cells are destroyed with the help of anti-cancer drugs.

Other methods like cryosurgery are also used to treat skin cancer. The affected cells are killed by extreme temperature. The tissue falls off on its own after the treatment. Laser therapy and radiation are also used to kill the affected cells in a localised area.

Treatment usually does not have many after-effects and skin cancer is the most treatable of all cancers if detected early. It usually does not spread into other areas, but even if it does, removal usually protects against recurrence.

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