Skin Cancer Overview
Human skin is a complex and vital organ of the body. It is our body’s first line of defense against disease, helps us to regulate our temperature and protects our internal organs from the potentially harmful effects of radiation from the Sun. Our skin is made up of three main layers, the upper layer or Epidermis, a mid layer known as the Dermis and a lower layer of fatty tissue. The Epidermis contains three types of cell. The majority of these cells are called Squamous Cells, at the base of which are rounder cells known as Basal Cells.
In between these Basal Cells are other cells known as Melanocytes. It is these cells which produce Melanin, a substance which gives our skin it’s pigmentation and helps to protect it from the effects of exposure to the Sun. Cancer is a disease which occurs when the cells in the body are produced in an uncontrolled way causing the development of a Tumor. There are three main types of cancer which affect the skin, Basal Cell Carcinoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma and Malignant Melanoma.
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
These are the most common type of skin cancer, accounting for around 75% of all skin cancers. They usually appear as a small, red, shiny spot which may bleed from time to time. They are caused by the effects of UVB light on the skin and are normally very slow growing, almost never spreading to other parts of the body. Some BCC’s can act more aggressively, eventually causing a tumor which can affect the underlying bones. With early treatment most BCC’S are completely curable.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
SCC’s are the second most common type of skin cancer, occuring in 20% of cases. Typically slow growing, SCC’s usually only spread to other parts of the body if they left untreated for a long period of time. Most cases of SCC are succesfully treated by a simple surgical procedure.
Malignant Melanomas appear on the surface of the skin as a mole like lesion which are typically black or dark brown in color, although they may be red or pink. They are irregular in shape and may bleed, itch and change shape and grow at a rapid rate. They are the most dangerous form of skin cancer by far, accounting for around 75% of all skin cancer deaths and with a mortality rate of 15-20%.
There are other very rare forms of skin cancer which can affect the skin such as Merkel Cell, Kaposi’s Sarcoma and Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphoma of the Skin which account for less than 1% of Skin Cancer cases.