The skin is considered the most important human organ in terms of surface. It protects the body from infections and ultraviolet (UV) radiation. It facilitates the control of body temperature and the elimination of organic waste through perspiration. It is also used to synthesize vitamin D and store water and fat stores.
It can also be affected by cancer. The number of new cases of skin cancer moreover more than tripled between 1980 and 2012. This can be explained by the evolution of solar and artificial UV radiation exposure habits over the past 40 years. These exposures are the most important risk factor for developing this type of cancer.
The main types of skin cancer are carcinomas and melanomas.
The term “carcinoma” refers to malignant tumors of epithelial origin. Carcinomas are the most common skin cancers. They usually occur after the age of 50, on the uncovered areas of the body (face, neck, shoulders, forearms, legs …). They are most often due to excessive and chronic sun exposure.
Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the 2 most common forms. Basal cell carcinoma alone accounts for approximately 90% of all skin cancers. It forms in the deepest layer of the epidermis.
Squamous cell carcinoma is a carcinoma developed in the epidermis, reproducing the appearance of keratinized cells. Squamous cell carcinomas can give metastases but this is quite rare and only 1% of patients with squamous cell carcinoma die from their cancer. There are other types of carcinoma but they are quite exceptional
Cutaneous melanoma is much rarer than carcinoma but it is the most serious skin cancer, because of its “high metastatic potential”, that is to say its ability to spread quickly to other parts of the body. Between 1980 and 2012, the number of melanoma cases tended to increase.
Melanoma can develop anywhere on the body, including on the scalp. It is found quite frequently on the back in men and on the legs in women.
It is primarily a clinical examination that allows the doctor to say if the lesion is likely to be cancerous. However dermoscopy and biopsy also help for the diagnosis.
Dermoscopy: This is an examination with a kind of magnifying glass called dermoscope, which allows seeing the structure of skin lesions and refining their diagnosis.
Biopsy. If the doctor suspects cancer, he or she takes a skin sample from the location of the suspect event for laboratory analysis. This will allow him to know if the tissues are cancerous and this will give an idea of the progress of the disease.
Risk factors :
People at risk:
People with fair complexions, blue or green eyes, blond or red hair are the most at risk to develop skin cancer.
Here are some other things that increase the risk. Nevertheless, it happens that skin cancer occurs in people who are apparently not at risk.
- Have a large number of moles;
- Have actinic keratosis;
- Live at altitude or near the South Pole. The highest incidence of melanoma is observed in Australia.
- Have a family history of melanoma;
- Have a weakened immune system, such as another cancer, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or an organ transplant;
- Have already seriously injured your skin (for example, with a chemical or a flame);
Exposure to the sun.
Sun exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer. If UVA and UVB (ultraviolet rays) damage the skin differently, both cause skin changes that can lead to cancer. Body parts commonly exposed to the sun are most at risk. That said, a cancer of the skin can appear anywhere. People practicing regularly outdoor leisure activities should be particularly vigilant;
The use of sunlamps for tanning.
According to the World Health Organization, the UV rays emitted by the tanning beds are among the most dangerous carcinogens, in the same way as tobacco and arsenic. Solar lights can emit up to 5 times more UVA than the sun. Some also emit UVB rays.
Chronic exposure to certain chemicals.
Some herbicides, arsenic and some petroleum-based products can cause skin cancer in people who are exposed to it regularly and in the long term.
Many skin cancers can be completely eliminated through surgery. After anesthetizing the skin locally, the doctor extracts the cancerous tumor using a scalpel. Depending on the size, type and site of the cancer, it can either cauterize the wound or close it with stitches.
In the case of some very small cancers or precancerous lesions, the diseased tissues are destroyed by extreme cold (using liquid nitrogen).
It is sometimes used in certain circumstances, for example when it is difficult to perform surgery, or after surgery, to kill the remaining cancer cells. It consists of destroying cancer cells using electromagnetic radiation, trying to save healthy peripheral tissue.
Sometimes anti-cancer drugs can be applied directly to the affected area. The treatment lasts several weeks.
It involves the use, by injection or in the form of tablets, of chemical substances for the purpose of targeting and damaging cells that divide too rapidly. It is used, in particular, when the cancer is at a stage of metastatic spread.
Any advice given here is even more important in the case of children:
Protect the skin from the sun by wearing long-sleeved tops, pants and a wide-brimmed hat. Polyester gives less UV light than cotton.
Look for shade and avoid exposure to the sun without protection, especially when the sun is at its zenith. This precautionary measure also applies when the weather is cloudy, as the sun’s rays pass through the light layers of clouds.
Avoid attending tanning salons. Note that having a tanned complexion with a tanning lamp before going on vacation to a sun destination does not protect the skin from the sun’s rays.
It is recommended to apply sunscreens for 20 to 30 minutes before exposure to sunlight while chemicals are absorbed through the skin.
Sunscreens must be used in sufficient quantity. A person of average size who wants to coat his body will apply the equivalent of at least 30 ml screen. In general, people do not apply enough cream. Also reapply the sunscreen every 2 or 3 hours, after a swim or if you have sweated a lot;
Do not expose a child less than 3 years of age to direct sunlight;
Avoid using products that accelerate tanning (oils), even those that contain sunscreens.
Learn about the photosensitizing effect of drugs and natural health products
Note any changes in the appearance of the skin:
A mole or actinic keratosis that changes shape, size or color.
A new suspicious colored lesion on the skin: 8 times out of 10, melanoma manifests as a new lesion, not a pre-existing lesion that changes appearance
- The appearance of a lump on or under the skin;
- A skin lesion that does not heal;
Nowadays, everyone knows that exposure to ultraviolet rays is the main cause of skin cancer.
However, I would like to emphasize that the risks are cumulative during life and that people who have already suffered severe sunburn during their childhood or adolescence are at a much higher risk of developing melanomas later. As parents, it is imperative that we protect our children adequately.
We also know that melanomas, especially, can appear on skin not exposed to the sun. I advise you to be attentive to the changes of your skin, to any new colored lesion suspect, to any lesion that does not cure. And above all, if a lesion worries you, do not hesitate to consult your doctor.