- Describe different diseases of the skin
One of the most talked about diseases is skin cancer. Cancer is a broad term that describes diseases caused by abnormal cells in the body dividing uncontrollably. Most cancers are identified by the organ or tissue in which the cancer originates. One common form of cancer is skin cancer. The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that one in five Americans will experience some type of skin cancer in their lifetime. The degradation of the ozone layer in the atmosphere and the resulting increase in exposure to UV radiation has contributed to its rise. Overexposure to UV radiation damages DNA, which can lead to the formation of cancerous lesions. Although melanin offers some protection against DNA damage from the sun, often it is not enough. The fact that cancers can also occur on areas of the body that are normally not exposed to UV radiation suggests that there are additional factors that can lead to cancerous lesions.
In general, cancers result from an accumulation of DNA mutations. These mutations can result in cell populations that do not die when they should and uncontrolled cell proliferation that leads to tumors. Although many tumors are benign (harmless), some produce cells that can mobilize and establish tumors in other organs of the body; this process is referred to as metastasis. Cancers are characterized by their ability to metastasize.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is a form of cancer that affects the mitotically active stem cells in the stratum basale of the epidermis. It is the most common of all cancers that occur in the United States and is frequently found on the head, neck, arms, and back, which are areas that are most susceptible to long-term sun exposure. Although UV rays are the main culprit, exposure to other agents, such as radiation and arsenic, can also lead to this type of cancer. Wounds on the skin due to open sores, tattoos, burns, etc. may be predisposing factors as well. Basal cell carcinomas start in the stratum basale and usually spread along this boundary. At some point, they begin to grow toward the surface and become an uneven patch, bump, growth, or scar on the skin surface (Figure 1). Like most cancers, basal cell carcinomas respond best to treatment when caught early. Treatment options include surgery, freezing (cryosurgery), and topical ointments (Mayo Clinic 2012).
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma is a cancer that affects the keratinocytes of the stratum spinosum and presents as lesions commonly found on the scalp, ears, and hands (Figure 2). It is the second most common skin cancer. The American Cancer Society reports that two of 10 skin cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, and it is more aggressive than basal cell carcinoma. If not removed, these carcinomas can metastasize. Surgery and radiation are used to cure squamous cell carcinoma.
A melanoma is a cancer characterized by the uncontrolled growth of melanocytes, the pigment-producing cells in the epidermis. Typically, a melanoma develops from a mole. It is the most fatal of all skin cancers, as it is highly metastatic and can be difficult to detect before it has spread to other organs. Melanomas usually appear as asymmetrical brown and black patches with uneven borders and a raised surface (Figure 3). Treatment typically involves surgical excision and immunotherapy.
Doctors often give their patients the following ABCDE mnemonic to help with the diagnosis of early-stage melanoma. If you observe a mole on your body displaying these signs, consult a doctor.
- Asymmetry – the two sides are not symmetrical
- Borders – the edges are irregular in shape
- Color – the color is varied shades of brown or black
- Diameter – it is larger than 6 mm (0.24 in)
- Evolving – its shape has changed
Some specialists cite the following additional signs for the most serious form, nodular melanoma:
- Elevated – it is raised on the skin surface
- Firm – it feels hard to the touch
- Growing – it is getting larger
In general, skin cancers ________.
- are easily treatable and not a major health concern
- can be reduced by limiting exposure to the sun
- occur due to poor hygiene
- affect only the epidermis
Squamous cell carcinomas are the second most common of the skin cancers and are capable of metastasizing if not treated. This cancer affects which cells?
- basal cells of the stratum basale
- melanocytes of the stratum basale
- keratinocytes of the stratum spinosum
- Langerhans cells of the stratum lucidum