Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. The main types of skin cancer are:
- squamous cell carcinoma
- basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma (or basal cell cancer) shows slow local growth and, if not treated properly, it can infiltrate the underlying tissues requiring complex interventions. Squamous cell carcinoma (squamous cell carcinoma of the skin or spinocellular carcinoma) can also be locally invasive and in 5% of cases it spreads to the lymph nodes and to other organs.
Melanoma is much less common than other types of cancer, but there is greater risk of it spreading to other parts of the body. It is the main cause of death due to dermatological disease.
In all cases the diagnosis and treatment processes are very important.
Faced with recently appearing skin lesions, growth, bleeding or any change that can be seen, the dermatologist will guide diagnosis through clinical history, physical examination and in most cases a small skin biopsy.
A biopsy makes it possible to distinguish benign and malignant lesions and within these the subtypes of cancer that may have different treatments. Any pigmented skin lesion that has appeared recently or that changes in a short time must be assessed by a dermatologist to rule out melanoma. Fortunately this is not the norm, but it should always be considered because of its severity.
Who is affected by the condition?
Skin cancer is very common and non-melanoma skin cancers have a very good prognosis. There is increased risk of suffering some types of skin cancer with age, possibly due to the fact that sun exposure accumulates over the years. Hence the importance of sun protection, especially starting early in life, given that the accumulation factor of repeated exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun adds up.
Diagnosis is done by a dermatologist through inspection andbiopsy. You should consult a dermatologist when a skin lesion is persistent or if a pigmented area changes shape or colour.
In the case of basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma, treatment is preceded by a biopsy to be followed by local removal surgery, destruction with cold (cryotherapy) or heat (electrocoagulation) and in some cases it may be sufficient to apply a medical treatment in the form of ointment with different active ingredients. Sometimes radiotherapy is also useful.
ºThe case of melanoma is very different because after the biopsy, the extent of the cancer must be evaluated and local treatment (surgery) or general oncology treatment administered to treat possible spread to other organs (metastasis).
In the case of non-melanoma skin cancer, the most common test is a skin biopsy. In the case of melanoma an investigation into the extent may be indicated to rule out other organs being affected (sentinel node biopsy and imaging tests).
Adequate protection from the sun's rays is very important to prevent skin cancer. You are advised to limit direct exposure to a few minutes or by using physical means (shirt, hat) or using creams or lotions with high sun protection factor (greater than 30), but these creams do not by any means offer total protection.