Most skin cancers are a locally destructive cancerous growth of the skin. They originate from the cells of the outer layers of the skin (the epidermis) and unlike malignant melanoma, the vast majority of these sorts of skin cancers rarely spread to other parts of the body, but can cause unsightly lesions which can be distressing to the patient.
There are three major types of skin cancer: (1) basal cell carcinoma (the most common), (2) squamous cell carcinoma (the second most common), which originate from skin cells, and (3) melanoma,which originates from the pigment-producing skin cells (melanocytes) but is less common, though more dangerous, than the first two varieties.
Actinic keratoses (AK), also called solar keratoses, are scaly, crusty lesions caused by damage from ultraviolet light, often in the facial area, the scalp and the backs of the hands. These are considered precancers because if untreated, up to 10% of actinic keratoses may develop into squamous cell carcinomas.
AK can generally be treated with topical preparations such as Zena Derm, Diclofenac or Imiquimod.
Most basal cell carcinomas have few if any symptoms. Squamous cell carcinomas may be painful. Both forms of skin cancer may appear as a sore that bleeds, oozes, crusts, or otherwise will not heal. They begin as a slowly growing bump on the skin that may bleed after minor trauma. Both kinds of skin cancers may have raised edges and a central ulceration.
What are the signs and symptoms ?
Signs and symptoms of basal cell carcinomas include:
- Appearance of a shiny pink, red, pearly, or translucent bump
- Pink skin growths or lesions with raised borders that are crusted in the centre
- Raised reddish patch of skin that may crust or start to itch, but is usually not painful
- A white, yellow, or waxy area with a poorly defined border that may resemble a scar
Signs and symptoms of squamous cell carcinomas include:
- Persistent, scaly red patches with irregular borders that may bleed easily
- Open sore that does not go away for weeks
- A raised growth with a rough surface that is indented in the middle
- A wart-like growth
What are the treatment options for skin cancer?
There are several effective means of treating skin cancer. The choice of therapy depends on the location and size of the tumour, the microscopic characteristics of the cancer, and the general health of the patient.
- Topical medications: In the case of superficial basal cell carcinomas, some creams, gels, and solutions can be used, including imiquimod (which works by stimulating the body's immune system causing it to produce interferon which attacks the cancer, and fluorouracil (5-FU), a chemotherapy drug. Many patients experience side effects of these topical treatments, including redness, inflammation, and irritation. One of the more recently released topical treatments that has been proven not to cause any visible side effects is a cream out of Australia, known as Zena Derm. The subject of 5 clinical trials at the University of Kentucky, Zena Derm appears to be able to remove AK lesions in a little as 7 days, with just a twice a day application.
- Destruction by electrodessication and curettage (EDC): The tumour area is numbed with a local anaesthetic and is repeatedly scraped with a sharp instrument (curette), and the edge is then cauterized with an electric needle. The advantage of this method is that it is fast, easy, and relatively inexpensive. The disadvantages are that the scar is often somewhat unsightly, and the recurrence rate is as high as 15%.
- Surgical excision: The area around the tumour is numbed with a local anaesthetic. A football-shaped portion of tissue including the tumour is then removed and then the wound edges are closed with sutures For very big tumours, skin grafts or flaps are needed to close the defect. The advantages of this form of treatment are that there is a greater than 90% cure rate, the surgical specimen can be examined to be sure that the whole tumour is successfully removed, and the scar produced is usually more cosmetically acceptable than that of the EDC procedure. It is a more complicated procedure and is more expensive than EDC.
- Radiation therapy: Ten to fifteen treatment sessions deliver a high dose of radiation to the tumour and a small surrounding skin area. This form of treatment is useful in those who are not candidates for any surgical procedure. The advantage of radiation therapy is that there is no cutting involved. The disadvantages of this expensive alternative are that the treated area cannot be tested to be sure the whole tumour is gone and radiation scars look worse over time. It is for this reason it is usually reserved for elderly patients.
Global Health Direct Pty Ltd
P: +61 2 8536 4160
Complimentary Healthcare Group
CHG provides media articles backed by clinical data and research on complimentary options for healthcare. Supported by a unique group of Doctors around the world, CHG provides a snapshot on alternative health and the growing clinical evidence to support the uses of alternative medicines.
Dr. Richard Teague