Skin Cancer – Causes and Symptoms: Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, is more common in women than men, though no one knows why. But, here is a ray of hope You might say skin cancer was an outdoor leisure/exercise/work syndrome, the result of periods of intense overexposure to ultraviolet light, even if the ozone was not depleted. Melanoma occurs in the melanocytes, the cells of the skin that control pigmentation, and it occurs most often in people who are fair-skinned and freckled, people who sunburn easily. In the last few years, skin cancers associated with exposure to ultraviolet light have been firmly established. But, if detected early, malignant melanoma is virtually 100 per cent curable.
ABCD of Skin Cancer
Physicians recommend a monthly skin check for the symptomatic ABCD of skin cancer:
A for Asymmetry
When one half of a mole or skin spot does not match the other half.
B for Border Irregularity
A mole or skin spot with ragged, notched or blurred edges.
C for Colour
Any spot or mole that changes in colour from black to brown to red, often with a combination of colours. Blue and white may appear.
D for Diameter
Any mole or spot that grows to more than a quarter inch; about the size of the end of a pencil eraser.
Causes of skin cancer
Melanoma can arise from an existing mole, but can also appear as a completely new spot on the skin. Consult a doctor if any mole or spot appears suddenly, looks scaly, becomes itchy, painful or tender, or starts to ooze blood.
Malignant melanoma is one of three common forms of skin cancer, but not the most common. That distinction belongs to basal cell carcinoma.
Basal cells make up the base of the epidermis, the outermost covering of the BODY. Ultraviolet radiation can cause these cells to reproduce too fast, producing tumorous growth. Basal cell carcinoma usually starts as a slow-growing, small, shiny or pearly bump that becomes an open sore taking longer than three weeks to heal. It often bleeds, crusts over, and opens to bleed again.
Cancer may be an itchy or tender reddish patch that comes and goes. Sometimes it’s a pale splotch like a scar, and sometimes it’s a circular growth with a raised border and depressed centre. Squamous cell carcinoma, like the other forms, appears most often on the face, ears, hands, and forearms.
In the past 50 years, the shoulders, back and chests of men, and the lower legs of women have become increasingly popular sites for skin cancer due to deliberate exposure of those BODY parts to UV radiation. Squamous cells make up most of the epidermis. When they become cancerous, they may look like basal cell cancer. The problem can also appear as a wart that bleeds and crusts over. Cancerous squamous cells grow faster and metastasise more frequently than basal cell carcinoma.
The earliest sign of skin damage is sunburn. A sunburn that continues to worsen several days after exposure may be a sun allergy. Overexposure to sunlight causes premature ageing of the skin, preparing the skin for later episodes of skin cancer. But sun-related skin problems are among the most preventable outdoor illnesses and injuries. Your first line of defence is clothing. Tight-weave clothing blocks a large number of UV rays, especially if it stays reasonably dry. A full-brimmed hat shades the face and neck and a floppy brim breaks up scattered UV better than a rigid brim.
Sunscreens dramatically reduce the chance of skin problems. Although most experts agree on screens with an SPF of 15 sufficiently protect most skin, recent studies show that higher SPF numbers offer additional protection, especially in the first few hours of exposure. Be sure the sunscreen guards against UVB and UVA radiation. Sunscreens are maximally effective if smeared on when the skin is warm and allowed to soak in for about a half-hour before extreme exposure. If your skin is very susceptible, it’s better you completely block UVR on your exposed skin with an opaque substance like zinc oxide.
Altitude is another factor. For every 1,000 feet above sea level, UVR increases around five to six per cent. Some medication, combined with sunshine, is thought to decrease the time it takes for UV light to damage skin: tetracyclines, antihistamines, sulfa drugs, diuretics, and some oral contraceptives fall into this category. Consult your physician or pharmacist. UV light damages the eyes as well as the skin. The conjunctiva can swell from UV exposure, and sun-induced cataracts can form from repeated exposure. Direct UVR burns the retina. So, don’t forget to carry those sunglasses along. Teach children well. According to experts, about 80 per cent of lifetime exposure to skin-damaging UV light occurs during the first 18 to 20 years of life. The cures for skin cancers aren’t especially pleasant: Scoop-scraping and cauterisation, shaving off thin layers one at a time, or conventional surgical removal of the growth and if the cancer is well-established, more extensive excision of the entire area. Non-surgical therapies may one day replace cutting and burning . . . but not today.
Sunshine strikes the earth in rays of varying wavelengths. Long rays (infrared) are unseen but felt as heat. Intermediate-length rays are visible as light. Shorter rays (ultraviolet) are also invisible and divided into the following groups: Ultraviolet A bombards the earth at an almost constant rate throughout the day, but approximately 80 per cent of UVB strikes between 10 am and 3 pm. Plan to be in the sun early and late in the day for minimum exposure. UVA is beneficial in low doses but may increase the chance of cancer in high doses. UVBs are primarily responsible for sunburn and cancer. UVCs are the shortest and most dangerous.
UV rays contain enough energy to damage DNA (which controls the ability of cells to heal and reproduce) in living skin and eye cells. This is where the ozone layer comes in. It allows life to flourish bypassing the longer, beneficial wavelengths and effectively blocking almost all UVC, some UVB, and a little UVA. The unique optical properties of ozone allow it to serve as a shield. About 90-per cent