- Medical Dermatology
Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer. It is increasing in frequency and is most generally found in people with a fair skin who have had excessive amounts of sun exposure over their whole lifetime.
Non-melanoma skin cancer, including Basal Cell Carcinoma, as well as Squamous Cell Carcinoma is caused by the accumulative effect of sun exposure over a person’s whole lifetime and two thirds of that sun exposure is often before the age of 20.
Malignant Melanoma seems to be more related to short intensive bursts of sun exposure, for instance, bad sunburn in childhood.
Solar Keratoses are pre-cancerous lesions that commonly occur on sun-exposed areas and they are usually small, rough spots that do not heal. If these Solar Keratoses are left untreated, a certain percentage of them will become a proper cancer, usually a Squamous Cell Carcinoma.
It is generally recommended that the Solar Keratoses be treated and the commonest method is with cryotherapy (freezing with liquid nitrogen).
Basal Cell Carcinoma
This is the commonest form of skin cancer but fortunately is generally not life-threatening. There are different types of Basal Cell Carcinoma which usually present with the symptom of bleeding from the site and often look like a pink, pearly bump on a sun-exposed area. The tumour is usually slow growing and if left for a long period of time it can cause local destruction. There are various treatments for a Basal Cell Carcinoma but the main treatment is surgical excision or curettage and cautery.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous Cell Carcinoma usually presents as a rapidly growing wart-like bump that may arise in a previous Solar Keratoses or may arise from normal skin. If not treated properly, this form of skin cancer may spread to the regional lymph nodes. The treatment of choice is generally surgical excision.
This is the most dangerous type of skin cancer as it can spread through the lymphatic system and through the blood stream to various organs of the body causing the death of the patient.
In the earliest stages a Malignant Melanoma is often asymptomatic and this is where mole mapping (Dermlite® ) is very useful to identify an early melanoma. If the Dermatologist excises a thin melanoma, ones chances of survival are excellent but with a deep, nodular melanoma the chances of survival are not so good.
Most melanomas are dark in colour, with an irregular edge and greater than 7mm in size with an irregular colour. This is the classic melanoma but unfortunately there are exceptions to every rule and one does sometimes see amelanotic melanomas, in other words, a pink lesion that is in fact a Malignant Melanoma.
The treatment of melanoma is generally surgical excision.
Therefore any mole that starts bleeding, itching or changes in size or shape should be assessed by a medical practitioner or Dermatologist as soon as possible.