Skin Cancers

Actinic Keratosis – or Solar Keratosis

dermnet_photo_of_actinic_keratosisActinic Keratosis appears as crusty, “dry” scaly bumps that are rough textured and sandpaper-like to the touch. They can be skin-coloured, reddish or yellowish, tan or dark brown in colour. They can gradually enlarge, thicken and become more elevated and form “cutaneous horns”.

They appear mainly on the face, especially on the nose, ears, temples, forehead, neck, and sometimes on or around the lips. They also commonly arise on the top of the forearms and hands and on the scalp of balding men.


  • Cryosurgery: Freezing with liquid nitrogen.
  • Biopsy, followed by electrodessication with Lamprobe (electrocautery) or electrodessication alone.
  • Topical chemotherapy with a prescription cream or lotion.
  • Laser surgery, photodynamic therapy (PDT), or chemical peeling.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

squamousSquamous Cell Carcinoma is a cancer that begins in the Squamous cells, which are flat, thin cells that resemble fish scales under a microscope. The earliest form of Squamous Cell Carcinoma is Actinic Keratosis or Solar Keratosis.

Rapidly growing Squamous Cell Carcinoma forms a mound with a central crater and this is called a Keratoacanthoma. In short, Squamous Cell Carcinoma begins as a firm red nodule or scaly crusted flat lesion that often appears as a non-healing sore, bump or ulcer.


Most Squamous Cell Carcinoma’s can be completely removed with relatively minor surgery. Depending on the size, location and aggressiveness of the tumour, treatment may include one or more of the following:

  • Electrodessication and Curettage: The surface of the skin cancer is removed with a scraping instrument or curette and then the base of the tumour is seared with an electric needle E.g. Lamprobe.
  • Surgical excision.
  • Cryosurgery: Freezing with liquid nitrogen.
  • Mohs micrographic surgery.
  • Radiation therapy: This may be an option for treating large cancers on the eyelids, lips and ears or areas that are difficult to treat surgically, or for tumours too deep to cut out.
  • Topical chemotherapy with creams or ointments.
  • Laser therapy.
  • Larger and deeply penetrating SCCs and those found next to or on mucous membranes (e.g., on lips), are considered more dangerous and must be treated more thoroughly.

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)

basal_cell_carcinoma_2Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. A Basal Cell Carcinoma usually begins as a small, dome-shaped bump that has telangiectases usually visible with a device such as the Skinlite I. The texture of the bump is often “pearly”, shiny and translucent.

It can be confused with a flesh coloured mole, so a biopsy is performed to verify this. Basal Cell Carcinomas can contain melanin, so that they look darker rather than shiny in some cases. Basal Cell Carcinomas grow slowly taking months to years to develop sizeably. They may have a small scab on their surface. It is often easily treated and cured in most cases. Although Basal Cell Carcinomas qualifies as a cancer, its harmful effects, if recognised and treated early, are usually minor.


  • Electrodessication and Curettage: The surface of the skin cancer is removed with a scraping instrument (curette) and then the base of the tumour is seared with an electric needle E.g. Lamprobe.
  • Surgical excision: In this procedure, which is used for both new and recurring tumours, the cancerous tissue and a surrounding margin of healthy skin is cut out.
  • Cryosurgery: Freezing with liquid nitrogen.
  • Mohs micrographic surgery: During this procedure, an experienced Mohs surgeon removes the tumour layer by layer, examining each layer under the microscope until no abnormal cells remain.
  • Radiation therapy.
  • Topical chemotherapy with cream or ointments e.g 5 – Fluorouracil – 5 – FU, Efudex, Fluoroplex or Aldara. This avoids surgery, however this option includes discomfort and a lower cure rate.
  • Laser surgery.
  • Basal Cell Carcinomas are slow growing and very rarely metastasize (spread).
  • They should not be ignored, as they can extend below the skin and cause considerable damage to nerves, cartilage and bone.

Malignant Melanoma (MM)

MelanomaMalignant melanoma is the most serious type of all skin cancers. It can arise on normal skin or from an existing mole. If not treated promptly, it can metastasize downward into other areas of the skin, lymph nodes or internal organs.

Melanocytes are found throughout the lower part of the epidermis. They produce melanin, which is the pigment that gives skin its natural colour. When skin is exposed to the sun, melanocytes make more pigment causing the skin to tan or darken. Malignant melanoma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form from these melanocytes.

Malignant Melanoma may have some or all of the following “ABCDE” features:

A – Asymmetry one half is unlike the other half.

B – Borders that are scalloped or indistinct.

C – Colour that is varied (brown, black, pink, blue-grey, white, or mixtures of these colours)

D – Diameter & dermascopic structure. Diameter that is greater than 6mm although these can be smaller. Dermascopic structure example, structureless, pigmented network, branched streaks, globules, dots, pseudopods.

E – Evolving, or change in a pre-existing mole. Any change in size, colour, elevation, or any new symptoms such as itching, bleeding, or crusting; particularly a mole that looks different from the rest.


  • Surgical excision is the treatment of choice, and follow-up should be performed by a dermatologist or surgeon who has experience in dealing with malignant melanomas.
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