Skin Cancer

The skin is the body’s largest organ. It protects against heat, sunlight, injury, and infection. Skin also helps control body temperature and stores water, fat, and vitamin D. The skin has several layers, but the two main layers are the epidermis (upper or outer layer) and the dermis (lower or inner layer).

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer.  The main types of skin cancer are squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Melanoma is much less common than the other types but much more likely to invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.

Skin cancer can occur anywhere on the body, but it is most common in skin that is often exposed to sunlight, such as the face, neck, and hands.

Skin colour and being exposed to sunlight can increase the risk of basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma of the skin. Risk factors for skin cancer include:

  • Being exposed to natural sunlight or artificial sunlight (such as from tanning beds) over long periods of time.
  • Having a fair complexion, which includes the following:
    • Fair skin that freckles and burns easily, does not tan, or tans poorly.
    • Blue, green, or other light-coloured eyes.
    • Red or blond hair.
  • Having a history of sunburns.
  • Having a personal or family history of skin cancer
  • Being exposed to arsenic.
  • Past treatment with radiation.

Although having a fair complexion is a risk factor for skin cancer, people of all skin colours can get skin cancer. Moreover, older age is the main risk factor for most cancers. The chance of getting cancer increases as you get older.

Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma of the skin, and actinic keratosis often appear as a change in the skin. However, it should be noted that not all changes in the skin are a sign of skin cancer. Always check with your doctors if you notice changes in your skin

Signs of skin cancer may include the following:

  • A sore spot on the skin that does not heal
  • Areas of the skin that look different from neighbouring skin, like being raised, smooth, shiny, of a different colour or scaly
  • Bleeding from some areas on the skin

To diagnose skin cancers, doctors use a number of tests. These include:

  • Skin exam: An exam of the skin for bumps or spots that look abnormal in colour, size, shape, or texture.
  • Skin biopsy: All or part of the abnormal-looking growth is cut from the skin and viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer.

Treatments of skin cancers may involve Surgery, Chemotherapy and Radiation therapy.

Radiotherapy is used to treat both basal cell and squamous cell cancers. The treatment covers a large area of the body and may be used after surgery or as a replacement of it. Usually, radiotherapy is given after surgery to lower the risk of the cancer coming back, and to fight possible metastasis.

Radiotherapy to the skin can cause the skin to become slightly red and sore during the treatment. This will begin to disappear once the treatment is finished. The skin may become crusty and scab over at first. When the scab falls off, there’ll be healthy skin underneath. This area will be more sensitive to the sun in the future.

Depending on the exact location and size of the tumour, Radiotherapy treatments for skin cancer can last from 3 to 5 weeks.

Some tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are usually called follow-up tests or check-ups.

Depending on the exact location and size of the tumour, the number of sessions of radiotherapy may vary greatly.  Some people might have a single radiotherapy treatment or multiple weeks of it.