Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer. They are triggered when unrepaired DNA damage triggers mutations in skin cells. These mutated cells multiply rapidly and form tumors. The initial damage is usually caused by exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun or tanning beds. These tumors originate in the basal cell layer of the epidermis. When recognized and treated early, melanomas are almost always curable. If left undiagnosed and untreated, melanomas can spread to other parts of the body where they become hard to treat and can be fatal.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) has a number of causes. BCC has both genetic and environmental causes.
Long-term exposure to the sun, or brief but intense exposure that results in sunburn, can contribute to BCC. Those with fair skin and blue, green, or grey eyes have a higher risk. When BCC appears in an area that has not been exposed to the sun, or in a very young person, other possible culprits can be exposure to arsenic, or radiation; complications in healing from a burn, or a wound; or even an infection, vaccination, or tattoo. Australian guidelines recommend 6 monthly skin checks for at least 2 years after the diagnosis of a BCC.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
SCC is the second most common form of skin cancer & is mostly caused by the cumulative effect of sun exposure on the skin. They generally occur in areas exposed to sunlight, but can occur in the mucous membranes and genitals as well. They are caused by uncontrolled growth of cells in the upper levels of the skin. They can look scaly or take on the appearance of an open sore or a wart.
The ratio of BCC to SCC is 6:1 in Brisbane and 2:1 in North Queensland.
These scaly or crusty growths are considered precanceous. The use of the word “solar” in the name makes it clear that this skin damage is caused by ultraviolet (UV) light. UV exposure in tanning beds can also cause this type of skin damage. These lesions commonly form on places that are easily exposed to the sun such as the face, ears, and the backs of your hands. SK is precancerous. The risk of turning into a skin cancer (SCC) is around 1%. However, SKs tend to occur in large numbers – so overall risk of skin cancer becomes significant.
What is Skin Cancer?
At its most basic level, skin cancer is nothing more than the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. Skin cancers make up close to 80% of all newly diagnosed cancers in Australia. When diagnosed early, it is one of the easiest cancers to cure. If it is not detected and treated early it can result in disfigurement and even death. Most skin cancers take one of the following different forms:
- Actinic Keratosis
- Basal Cell Carcinoma
- Dysplastic Nevi
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Not all skin growths are cancer and not all cancers appear as strange skin growths. That is why self checks for skin cancer are important and professionally performed checks for cancer at a skin cancer clinic are extremely important.
What Causes Skin Cancer?
No matter the type of skin cancer, most causes fall into one of two very broad categories:
- Unrepaired DNA mutations caused by UV or solar damage; or
- Genetic mutations.