Skin cancer

Skin cancer is a type of cancer that has become more common in recent years. There are three different types: melanoma (‘black skin cancer’), basal cell carcinoma and spinalioma. The last two are also known as ‘white skin cancer’. Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer, because unlike the other types, it forms metastases in other organs.

Black skin cancer

Melanoma consists of pigment cells (melanocytes) in the skin. It is the most malignant form of skin cancer. Even at an early stage, melanoma can form tumours (metastases) in other organs. In rare cases, melanoma can also develop in mucous membranes. For example, in the mouth or genital area. 

White skin cancer

The white or light types of skin cancer (spinalioma, basal cell carcinoma) consist of epithelial cells (keratinocytes) in the skin. Unlike melanoma, white skin cancers are usually localised and do not form any other tumours. 

Causes of skin cancer

UV radiation is the main cause of all three types of skin cancer. That is why it is more commonly found on parts of the body frequently exposed to sunlight. In addition to natural UV radiation from the sun, artificial UV radiation from solariums are also a risk factor.

What are the signs of skin cancer?

Given that the appearance of skin cancer can vary greatly, every new mole or changes in existing moles should be examined by a doctor. 

Special attention should be paid to the following warning signs: 

  • abnormal spots on the skin with irregular edges
  • moles that itch
  • pigmentations or lumps that bleed
  • pigmentations that change in size and colour

Diagnosis of skin cancer

To ensure early detection, any skin change should be checked by a doctor. A tissue sample is taken from the suspicious mole or lump to make a diagnosis. However, with melanoma, additional diagnostic examinations are required to determine how far the disease has progressed and to identify possible metastases. This includes ultrasound examinations, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and skeletal scintigraphy.

Treatment

If the doctor’s suspicion is confirmed, the skin cancer is surgically removed. This is usually sufficient to cure basal cell carcinomas and spinaliomas. The success of melanoma treatments depends on the cancer’s stage of development. If detected and treated early on, there is a good chance that melanoma will be cured by surgery. If metastases have already started to form, other treatment options can be used, for example radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Prevention of skin cancer

People with a large number of moles should have them checked regularly (annually) by a dermatologist. The most important recommendations for preventing skin cancer also include:

  • avoid getting sunburnt
  • stay in the shade between 11:00 am and 3:00 pm
  • wear a hat, sunglasses and clothing when exposed to very strong sunlight
  • apply sunscreen
  • avoid using solariums
Illustration of skin cancer