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Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. It typically affects people with lighter skin tone. Skin cancer is the uncontrolled and abnormal growth of destructive malignant skin cells. It occurs when unrepairable DNA damage that occurs in the skin cells triggers a mutation that makes them multiply rapidly and form malignant skin tumors.

Skin cancer is mostly caused by ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds. Skin cancers have a limited potential to spread to other parts of the body and may become life-threatening if not treated on time. They are common and can be effectively treated but the treatment of some forms of skin cancers can be difficult. However, early diagnosis and treatment can increase the survival rate.

Types of Skin Cancer

The following are the three common types of skin cancers:

  • Basal cell skin cancer: This type of skin cancer is present in sun-exposed areas of the skin. Basal cell skin cancer rarely spread to other body parts (metastasize) and do not cause death. They are very common and easily treatable.
  • Squamous cell skin cancer: These skin cancers are also common but less common than basal cell cancers. They can metastasize but the metastasis rate is very low. They are also non-life threatening and can be treated easily.
  • Melanoma: This type of skin cancer originates from the pigment that gives color to the skin called melanocyte. It is less common and more dangerous than the first two types of skin cancer. However, if melanoma is recognized and treated early, it is almost curable. Advanced stage melanoma can spread to other parts of the body and is hard to treat. It can be life-threatening as well.

There are also some other types of skin cancers such as Merkel cell skin cancer, Kaposi sarcoma skin cancer and lymphoma of the skin, but these are rare. Although, some of these are aggressive skin cancers and has a high risk of recurrence.

Skin Cancer: Symptoms

The typical skin cancer symptoms vary from patient to patient. The symptoms also vary depending on the type of skin cancer that the patient has.

However, basal and squamous skin cancers can have some common symptoms, which include:

  • Flat, firm, pale or yellow areas, similar to scars
  • Raised reddish patches that might be itchy without pain
  • Small, pink or red, shiny, translucent, pearly bumps, which may have blue, brown or black areas
  • Raised growth and lumps with a lower area in their center, which might contain abnormal blood vessels spreading out
  • Open sores that do not heal, or come back after healing
  • Rough or scaly red patches, which may crust or bleed

Melanoma skin cancer can have some different types of skin cancer symptoms. There is an ABCDE rule guide that explains the melanoma symptoms:

  • A is for Asymmetry: One half of a mole or birthmark that does not match the other half.
  • B is for Border: The edges are ragged, irregular, notched, or blurred.
  • C is for Color: The color is not the same throughout the mole and may include different shades and patches of brown or black, pink, red, white, or blue.
  • D is for Diameter: The spot or skin growth is larger than 6 millimeters across, although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
  • E is for Evolving: There is a change in size, shape, color, or surface of the mole.

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Before the Treatment

Before undergoing the treatment, it is important for you to know which type of skin cancer you have. The same way, it is important for the doctor to know the stage and type of skin cancer that you have so that he or she can prepare a treatment plan that will best meet your medical needs.

The first step in cancer treatment is the diagnosis. Once you arrive at the doctor’s clinic or hospital with a certain set of symptoms, you will have to undergo a few tests for accurate diagnosis.

Skin Cancer Diagnosis

The following are the two tests used for skin cancer diagnosis:

  • Physical examination: Skin cancer diagnosis starts with a skin examination conducted by a dermatologist to find out if it is cancer or some other skin condition. Usually, your doctor will ask about any symptoms that you are experiencing. In most of the cases, the appearance of the skin alone is sufficient to make the diagnosis.
  • Skin Biopsy: A skin biopsy is needed when the doctor thinks that a suspicious area might be skin cancer. It is performed by numbing the area with a local anaesthetic. After that, a small portion of the skin is sliced away for examination under a microscope.

Once the cancer is diagnosed, you should have a thorough discussion with the doctor about his or her future set of actions for treatment. Clarify all your doubts from the doctor as this will help set your expectations with respect to the future course of treatment, its duration, and the associated costs.

Ask the doctor for specific instructions as to what specific precautions you must take before, during, and after skin cancer treatment. Know what may aggravate your condition and what medications you need to take a few days before the treatment. You may also be advised to stop a few medications before the treatment is initiated.

How it is Performed

Several effective skin cancer treatment modalities are available, which is selected depending on the type of skin cancer that the patient is suffering from. Your dermatologist will choose the best suitable treatment for you depending on the type of skin cancer, location, your age, general health, and condition (whether the cancer is primary or a recurrence).

Some of the common treatment options for skin cancer include the following:

Electrodesiccation (EDC)

Destruction of skin cancer by electrodesiccation and curettage is known as EDC therapy. This treatment is fast, easy, and less expensive in comparison to other skin cancer treatment options. In this treatment, the area of the affected skin is numbed with a local anesthetic and scraped repeatedly with a sharp instrument called curette. After that, the edge is cauterized with an electric needle.


Surgery is a more complicated and expensive procedure than EDC. During this skin cancer treatment, the surgeon first numbs the affected area with a local anesthetic. Then the malignant skin tissues are fully removed. Lastly, the edges of the wounds are closed with sutures. Surgery has a greater cure rate and the scar produced is usually more cosmetically acceptable than EDC procedure.

Mohs surgery for skin cancer is a microscopically-controlled treatment performed for common types of skin cancer. During this treatment, the surgeon keeps on removing layers of tissues and see it under the microscope to look for cancer cells.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is an option when the patient is not suitable for surgical treatment such as the elderly. The treated area cannot be tested to be sure that the entire cancer is gone and the radiation scar looks worse over time.

Targeted Drug Therapy

In the case of basal cell skin cancer, some gels, creams, and solutions can be used to reduce cancerous cells.


Chemotherapy drugs such as fluorouracil (5-FU) can be given orally to the patient to treat skin cancer. It works by stimulating the body's immune system to produce interferon, which attacks the cancer cells.

Alternative Therapy

Alternative therapy includes the use of herbs, vitamins, and special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage. Alternative therapy, however, cannot be used alone to treat skin cancer completely. It can only be used to reduce the severity of the symptoms.


  • One important part of skin cancer recovery is to watch carefully for the chances of recurrence. Even after skin cancer surgery, some cancer cells may remain in the body and manifest themselves later on.
  • You are advised to visit your doctor regularly after skin cancer treatment for continuous monitoring and recovery check. You will be advised on how to manage long-term side effects of treatment and improve the overall quality of life.
  • There are specific precautions that you need to take if you’ve had a surgery for skin cancer. Your surgeon will give you specific instructions at the time of discharge. Your wound will be covered with a pressurized dressing for at least 24 hours after the surgery. Every precaution must be taken to prevent the wound from an infection.
  • Your surgeon will tell you when to take a bath after the surgery. You must take all precautions to keep the wound dry for the initial few days. You will be shown or told the proper way to clean the wound and apply a dressing after the discharge.
  • You may experience some level of redness and swelling after the surgery, which may remain for a few weeks to months. The extremity of redness and swelling depends on the depth of the wound. You must watch the wound carefully every day to check for signs of infection. Fever, extreme pain, drainage from the wound, enlarged lymph nodes, and redness are some of the signs of infection. Contact your doctor immediately if you notice any of these signs of wounds infection.

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Q: Can skin cancer be cured completely?

A: It is possible to treat early-stage skin cancer with the help of surgery and chemotherapy. However, Stage 4 skin cancer is often difficult to cure because it has spread to distant parts of the body, including lymph nodes. Chances of recurrence are high in such cases, even after treatment.

Q: Is it possible to prevent skin cancer?

A: Taking preventive steps is the best way to prevent skin damage due to sun exposure. Some of these steps include the following:

  • Wearing at least SPF 30 before going out in the sun.
  • Reapplying sunscreen every two hours while out in the sun.
  • Avoiding tanning beds.
  • Getting a skin examination done at least once a year.
  • Staying in shade during the peak hours, that is, between 10 am and 4 pm.

Q: Is it possible to get skin cancer anywhere on the body?

A: Skin cancer most commonly affects the body parts that have been exposed to the sun for the maximum duration. However, it is possible to get skin cancer even on body parts that have been rarely or never exposed to the sun.

Q: How can I know if I have skin cancer?

A: If you observe any abnormality in the skin, it is better to go visit a dermatologist for further examination. Only an experienced dermatologist will be able to tell if skin cancer is suspected. If that is the case, he may refer you to a higher skin specialist or an oncologist.

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