Non-melanoma Skin Cancers
Non-melanoma skin cancer is a malignant tumor that develops in the cells of the skin. The skin is the largest organ in the body. Its main function is to protect the body from infection and injury. It also helps to regulate temperature and rid the body of waste through the sweat glands. It stores fat and water, and also creates Vitamin D. It is made up of two main layers: the epidermis on top, and the dermis which below the epidermis.
There are several non-cancerous types of tumors or masses that can affect the skin including moles, seborrheic keratoses, lipomas, warts, and hemangiomas.
There are three kinds of cells that make up the epidermis:
• basal cells
• squamous cells
There is the ‘basement membrane’ that separates the epidermis from the deeper layers of the skin. In advanced stages of non-melanoma skin cancers will grow down, past the basement membrane and into the deeper layers of the skin.
There are two types of non-melanoma skin cancer:
• basal cell carcinoma
• squamous cell carcinoma
Roughly 80 percent of all skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma. Basal cell carcinoma is slow-growing cancer that generally develops on skin that is exposed to the sun including the head and neck.
A smaller percentage of skin cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. They also develop on skin that is exposed to the sun as well as on scars or in places where there are chronic skin lesions. Squamous cell carcinomas have a greater instance of spreading than basal cell carcinomas, though it is not very common.
Causes & Symptoms of Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer
There are several known risk factors for non-melanoma skin cancer. The most important factor is exposure to ultraviolet radiation. UVR includes UVA, UVB, and UVC. The sun is our main source of UVA.
Risk factors for Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer include:
• exposure to UVR
• people with fair complexions, eyes, and hair
• risk rises with age
• long-term or severe skin inflammation
• weakened immune system
• ionizing radiation exposure
• certain petroleum products
• PUVA therapy
• precancerous skin conditions
• personal history
Other possible risk factors include:
• number of moles
• HPV (human papillomavirus)
• photosensitizing agents
Some of the following symptoms can be caused by things other than non-melanoma skin cancer, so it is important to visit your physician for a proper diagnosis.
Symptoms of basal cell carcinoma include:
• chronic sore that doesn’t heal
• area of skin that is raised, red and itchy
• area of skin that is smooth and ‘pearly’ or waxy
• bleeding from sore
• sore that develops into an ulcer
Symptoms of Squamous cell carcinoma include:
• scaly patches that crust or bleed
• raised bump with a center that lies lower than the outer area
• chronic sore that doesn’t heal or heals and comes back
• wart-like growths
Basal and squamous cell cancers can also develop with very small changes to the skin. There are also types of skin cancer that present very differently from what is described above, so it’s important to visit your physician to check any skin irregularities.
Who Gets Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer
People who are outside a lot are more susceptible to skin cancers. Squamous cell carcinoma has been directly linked to the total amount of UVR exposure someone has over their lifetime including working outside, recreational outdoor activities and UVR exposure during childhood.
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