Published on April 7, 2022 at 8:00 / Updated on June 1, 2022 at 8:00

Skin cancer is a tumour that affects the skin cells. These cells multiply rapidly and form a mass. This mass gradually invades the surrounding tissue.

There are different types of skin cancer.

Generally, skin cancer has no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. Over time, it can present the following characteristics:

  • A new lesion on the skin:
    • Irregularly shaped
    • Colourful
    • Not going away
  • An existing lesion on the skin:
    • Altered appearance (size, colour, shape)

The lesion is typically located on a part of the body that gets a lot of sun exposure. Sometimes it can be painful, and it may be itchy or even bleed.

The recovery rate for all types of skin cancers is very favourable if they are treated early. The likelihood that the cancer will spread to other organs in the body (metastasis) is low.

Causes and Triggers

Skin cancers are primarily caused by frequent UV ray exposure (e.g., sunlight and tanning beds). Skin cancer occurs many years after exposure. For this reason, sun exposure during childhood greatly increases a person's risk of developing skin cancer.

Other risk factors include the following:

  • Pale skin, eyes, and hair
  • A large number of moles
  • A history of skin cancer
  • Exposure to a carcinogen
  • A weakened immune system

Treatment

Skin cancer treatment depends on the type, stage, and location of the cancer and likelihood of recurrence.

Generally, skin cancer is removed through surgery. In some cases, the following treatments may be prescribed:

  • Certain topical treatments
  • Medications
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy

Skin cancer prevention consists in minimizing your exposure to ultraviolet rays.

  • Avoid direct and prolonged sun exposure (especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.).
  • Avoid tanning salons.
  • Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs and a wide-brimmed hat when you go outside.
  • Apply effective UVA and UVB sun protection with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Reapply every 2 hours and after swimming.

Periodically examining your skin for any changes is the best way to detect skin cancer early.

To help you detect melanoma (a type of skin cancer), remember the ABCDE rule for evaluating moles:

A: Asymmetry (the left and right sides do not look the same)
B: Border (no clear demarcation between the mole and the skin)
C: Colour (change in colour or colour variation within the same mole)
D: Diameter (larger than 6 mm)
E: Evolving (appearance changes over time)

When should I see a health care professional?

Consult your health care provider if you notice a new mole or lesion that won't go away, or any changes to the appearance of a mark on your skin.

For more information:
Canadian Cancer Society
www.cancer.ca/en/
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