Skin Cancer – Causes, Risks, Prevention and Treatment

Causes of Skin Cancers

The most common cause of skin cancers are ultraviolet (UV) rays, either from the sun, or from UV-emitting lamps, like those in tanning saloons. Both UV-A and UV-B rays may cause skin cancer.

Other possible causes of skin cancers include:

  • A high dose or repeated X-ray exposure (1,2)
  • Exposure to arsenic (pesticides, wood preservatives, miners, sheep shearers, farmers) (1), pitch (from distillation of wood or coal tar), creosote, or radium (5)
  • Therapy that destroys immune cells – chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunosuppression in organ or bone marrow transplantation (2)
  • Smoking – increases risk of squamous cell carcinoma (4)

Risk Factors for Developing a Skin Cancer

The possibility of developing a skin cancer increases with the following factors:

  • People with fair skin, freckles, blond or red hair, blue or green eyes are at most risk to develop skin cancer (2).
  • Skin disorders with lack of skin pigment melanin (albinism, xeroderma pigmentosum) (2)
  • Tanning poorly (1)
  • Several, unusual or big moles at birth (2)
  • New or changing mole (5)
  • Close relatives with skin cancer (2)
  • Previous skin cancer (2)
  • Severe sunburn, especially early in life (2)
  • Scars (2)
  • Actinic keratosis (1)
  • HIV infection – increases risk of Kaposis’s sarkoma (3)
  • A constant exposure to the UV rays: a high altitude, regions close to equator and regions with impaired ozone layer in atmosphere (Australia) (1)
  • Repeated sun exposure (outdoor workers, sailors, farmers, drivers) (1)
  • White race, men, age after 50 (6)

Preventing Skin Cancer

Skin cancer prevention includes avoiding the sun and other causes of skin cancer, protection against these causes, regular self-examination, and checking suspicious skin changes by a dermatologist.

Avoiding Causes of Skin Cancer

Avoiding Sun

  • Avoid direct sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., especially in summer, in regions close to equator (± 30 degrees latitude), and in high altitudes.
  • Not only long term exposure, but also short non-regular exposures (minutes) to intense sunlight may increase the risk of a skin cancer. A person with fair skin may get burns in 15 minutes, so avoid getting burns.

Avoiding Tanning Saloons

  • UV-A rays from lamps in tanning saloons, once considered as non-harmful, are now recognised as the possible cause of a skin cancer.
  • There is no proof that tanning prevents skin cancer.

Avoiding Other Causes of Skin Cancer

  • Repeated X-ray or CT investigations, radiotherapy, chemotherapy may increase risk of skin cancer
  • Oil and coal by-products (pitch, soot), mostly from air pollution should be avoided
  • Arsenic and other substances in pesticides, wood preservatives are cancerogenous.
  • Smoking also causes skin cancer

Protection Against Causes of Skin Cancer

  • When choosing a shadow, bear in mind that sunlight can reflect from water or snow, sand, concrete, or any other white or light colored surface.
  • Wear long-sleeved cotton shirts, long pants, broad hat (to protect face, neck, scalp and ears), and UV-protecting glasses (skin cancer COMMONLY appears around the eyes) when you are exposed to intense sun.
  • Apply sunscreen with sun protective factor (SPF) at least 15, 30 minutes before sun exposure, and re-apply it every 2 hours and after swimming or sweating. On the beach, in mountains, during skiing and in areas around equator, use sunscreen even when you are in the shadow or in cloudy or cold weather, since sunlight easily reflects from nearby bright surfaces, sand water, and snow, or breaks through the clouds. No sunscreen can completely prevent your skin from harming effect of the sun though.
  • Wear protective clothes when dealing with pesticides, lacquers…
  • Do not smoke.
  • Keep newborns out from the direct sun.

Skin Self-Examination and Checking by Dermatologist

Skin cancers often start to grow insidiously, without pain, and on sites where they are hardly noticed even during changing or washing. So, self-examine your skin once a month:

  • You will need bright daylight or a light from a strong lamp, a full-sized mirror and a hand mirror
  • Check your body from the head to toes: the scalp, neck, ears and skin around the ears, eyebrows, face – especially eyelids, lips, and all other parts of the body, icluding groin area and nails.
  • Every new mole or a mole that has changed in size, color or appearance is suspicious for skin cancer. Check types of skin cancers (pictures included).
  • If you are exposed to causes of skin cancers or have risk factors for it, visit a dermatologist once a year to have a thorough skin exam.

Treatment of Skin Cancer

Treatment of skin cancer depends on cancer type, stage, location, patient’s age, and his/her general health state. It is a dermatologist – a specialist for skin diseases – who treats cancer. Methods of skin cancer treatment include:

  1. Surgery
  2. Radiotherapy
  3. Chemotherapy
  4. Medications and other

1. Surgery

In most cases, surgery is the first option to treat cancer. Often only a small ambulatory procedure performed in outpatient ambulance is needed:

  • Excision. Small tumors, like small basal carcinoma can be simply excised with the scalpel. Under local anesthesia ( anesthetic is injected in surrounding tissue), a cancer and small amount of healthy tissue around the tumor will be excised to be sure that all cancerous cells are removed. Resulting wound will be sutured, and sutures removed after few days. A small scar will often remain, but this fades to some extent with time.
  • Cryosurgery (Greek cryo= cold) is freezing the cancer with applying liquid nitrogen (-196°C) on the cancer. Cryosurgery is mainly used for small surface pre-cancerous growths, like actinic keratoses. The procedure is painless. After the growth falls off, a small pale scar remains.
  • Curretage is scraping the lesion with a sharp instrument. The area is then treated with electrodesiccation (Latin desiccare = dry off completely) to kill eventual remaining cancerous cells and to stop bleeding.
  • Laser can be used to destroy small superficial cancers.
  • Micrographic surgery is a procedure where a cancer is removed layer by layer and each layer is checked under the microscope for presence of cancerous cells, before proceeding. The method is used in large agressive cancers where removing all cancerous cells is essential, but keeping as much as possible of surrounding skin is also important (like on the face).
  • A skin graft from the other part of the body may be needed after surgical removal of the skin cancer.

2. Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy means treating of cancers with anti-cancer drugs.

  • In topical chemotherapy, a cream or lotion with anti-cancer drug is applied on the cancer. It can be used in small superficial cancers. Topical chemotherapy doesn’t cause systemic side effects, but usually results in local inflammation.
  • Systemic chemotherapy is mainly used for cancers that have already spread into other organs. Anti-cancer drugs are administered as pills, intra-muscular, or intravenous injections.

3. Radiotherapy

In radiotherapy high energy X-ray beam is used to kill cancer cells. It is usually used for cancers on the face that can’t be easily removed with surgery. The procedure is painless. The procedure usually causes temporary local inflammation. Sometimes notable skin changes develop on the treated area.

4. Other Treatments of Skin Cancer

In particular tumors the following therapeutic procedures may be effective:

  • In photodynamic therapy (PDT), a medication with tendency to collect in cancerous cells is injected into a vein (1). After 24-72 hours, medication will disappear from normal body cells, but will remain in the cancerous cells. Then a special light is focused on the cancer to activate the medication, and this will destroy cancerous cells. PTD can be used for treat small skin, esophageal, and bronchial tumors (optic tubes with the light are inserted into esophagus or bronchi).
  • In cancer immunotherapy, substances that are normally produced by the body to kill harmful cells, may be produced in laboratory and injected into patient’s bloodstream (2). These substances (interferon-A, monoclonal antibodies) collect into tumors and made them susceptible for body’s own immune system.

References:

  1. Skin cancer causes and risk factors  (rush.edu)
  2. Skin cancer causes and risk factors  ( emedicinehealth.com)
  3. Skin cancer causes and risk factors  (umm.edu)
  4. Smoking increases risk for squamous cell carcinoma  (cancer.org)
  5. Radium increases risk of skin carcinoma  (cancer.org)
  6. White men after 50 have increased risk for skin cancer  (skincancer.org)
About Jan Modric (249 Articles)
Health writer

Please note that any information or feedback on this website is not intended to replace a consultation with a health care professional and will not constitute a medical diagnosis. By using this website and the comment service you agree to abide by the comment terms and conditions as outlined on this page

Ask a Doctor Online Now!

  • Pingback: Types of Skin Cancer - Pictures and Treatment | Current Health Articles 2009()

  • Pingback: Skin Cancer Prevention | Current Health Articles 2009()

  • Pingback: Sunscreens - Which One is Good? | Current Health Articles 2009()

  • Pingback: Natural and Organic Sunscreen | Current Health Articles 2009()

  • Pingback: Staph (Staff) Skin Infections Pictures | Current Health Articles 2009()

  • Pingback: MRSA Superbug Types: CA-MRSA, HA-MRSA in Y. 2008 | Current Health Articles 2009()

  • Carla Run

    Gasoline, Petroleum and the plastics made from it are the single largest cause of cancer in the world. This is a known fact, verified by thousands of studies which the oil industry counters by paying pundits to say: “Well, we just are not sure yet”. Now we are sure. The TPH array in petroleum and petroleum products exists as microscopic particles which leach off of plastic materials, (ie: the plastic in water and baby bottles) and float in the air as vapor, (ie: the fumes around gas stations). These particles are absorbed into the body and broken down to a cellular level and then to a DNA level. As the DNA replicates, a constant process, these TPH materials cause the replication process to make mistakes and create genetic mutations. TPH is a very particular array of items so the “mistakes” that it causes occur as the same thing over and over. We call this repeating mistake: “cancer”. Other materials in our environment cause other kinds of genetic mutations that do not manifest as onerous, or extremely negative, or obvious things. TPH manifests cancer.

    The TPH chemical array has killed more Americans than every terrorist since the beginning of time.

    The petrochemical bisphenol-a, or BPA, causes precancerous tumors and urinary tract problems and made babies reach puberty early.

    Every gas pump has a label on it that oil and gas causes cancer and a host of lethal medical problems.

    Archeologicial digs show that ancient peoples living near tar pits got cancer.

    When there is an oil spill, you are not allowed on the beach because most agencies classify oil as toxic.

    A study of childhook leukemia in England mapped every child with the diserase and found they all occurred in a circle, in the center of which was a gas station.
    Living near a petrol station could quadruple the risk of childhood leukaemia, research suggested today.
    The study in France found a link between cases of acute leukaemia among youngsters and how close they lived to a fuel station or a repair garage.
    Research has already shown an association between adults’ occupational exposure to benzene, a hydrocarbon derived from petrol, and leukaemia.
    The latest study is published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The French Institute of Health and Medical Research based their findings on 280 cases of childhood leukaemia and a comparison group of 285 children.
    They were drawn from four hospitals in Nancy, Lille, Lyon and Paris, with almost two-thirds of the children with leukaemia aged between two and six.
    The team found no clear link between the mother’s occupation during pregnancy or traffic levels around where they lived and the risk of child leukaemia.
    They also saw no link between leukaemia and living near manufacturers using materials such as aluminium or plastic.
    But a child whose home was near a garage was four times more likely to develop leukaemia than a child whose home was not.
    The risk appeared to be even greater for acute nonlymphoblastic leukaemia, which was seven times more common among children living close to a petrol station or garage. The longer a child had lived there, the higher their risk of leukaemia appeared to be.
    There are 6,600 cases of leukaemia a year in Britain. Although it is the most common form of childhood cancer, it affects three times as many adults as children.
    The authors admit the findings could be due to chance. “But the strength of the association and the duration of the trend are arguments for a causal association.”

    Alberta’s oil sands are one of the world’s biggest deposits of oil, but the cost of extracting that oil may be the health of the people living around them. High levels of toxic chemicals and carcinogens have been found in the water, soil, and fish downstream of the oil sands. The local health authority of Fort Chipewyan, Alberta comissioned the study in response to locals’ claims that the oil extraction projects upstream were damaging the health of citizens. Petrochemicals and their byproducts, such as dioxin, are known to cause an array of serious health problems, including cancers and endocrine disruption.Total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH) is a term used to describe a large family of several hundred chemical compounds that originally come from crude oil. Crude oil is used to make petroleum products, which can contaminate the environment. Because there are so many different chemicals in crude oil and in other petroleum products, it is not practical to measure each one separately. However, it is useful to measure the total amount of TPH at a site.TPH is a mixture of chemicals, but they are all made mainly from hydrogen and carbon, called hydrocarbons. Scientists divide TPH into groups of petroleum hydrocarbons that act alike in soil or water. These groups are called petroleum hydrocarbon fractions. Each fraction contains many individual chemicals.

    Some chemicals that may be found in TPH are hexane, jet fuels, mineral oils, benzene, toluene, xylenes, naphthalene, and fluorene, as well as other petroleum products and gasoline components. However, it is likely that samples of TPH will contain only some, or a mixture, of these chemicals. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has determined that one TPH compound (benzene) is carcinogenic to humans. IARC has determined that other TPH compounds (benzo[a]pyrene and gasoline) are carcinogenic to humans.

    Benzene causes leukemia. Benzene as a cause of leukemia had documented since 1928 (1 p. 7-9). In 1948, the American Petroleum Institute officially reported a link between this solvent used in many of their industries used and cases of leukemia in their workers. Their findings concluded that the only safe level of benzene exposure is no exposure at all (2).

    The largest breast cancer incidents are in Marin County, California which is tied to the air, water and ecosphere of the Chevron Oil refinery right next door.

    The oil industries spend tens of millions of dollars on fake pundits and disinformation to make sure the above information is never known by the public. Cure Cancer: Stop oil. It is a national security need in more ways than one.

  • Pingback: Supposedly Safe Sunscreen Ingredients | Current Health Articles 2009()