In Singapore, skin cancer is the sixth most common cancer among men and the seventh most common cancer among women
There are three main types of skin cancers that dermatologists typically see: basal cell carcinomas (BCC), squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) and melanomas. The first two are more common and also classified as nonmelanoma skin cancer (NMSC).
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common skin cancer. It tends to grow slowly and usually starts as a painless, raised, shiny or pigmented skin bump, or occasionally as an ulcerated area. BCCs usually do not spread to lymph nodes and thus are rarely fatal.
Squamous cell carcinoma is more aggressive than BCC. The risk of it spreading to lymph nodes is higher for very large SCCs, and those occurring on the lips or ears. The lesion is often red, crusted and hard to the touch. It grows more rapidly compared to BCCs, and can arise from chronic skin wounds and severe burn scars.
Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, and it can spread to lymph nodes and organs. It commonly appears as a pigmented, irregular lesion that can develop from a pre-existing mole or on its own. Asian patients, particularly the elderly, are at higher risk of developing acral melanomas on the fingers and feet.
A diagnosis is usually confirmed through a skin biopsy, which is done under local anaesthetic.
What are the risk factors?
- Overexposure to the sun – ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the primary culprit. Apply sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher to the face and exposed parts of the body at least 30 minutes before heading out, and reapply every two hours while outdoors
- People with fairer complexions are at higher risk
- Immunosuppression – especially those whose immune systems are weakened due to medications or infections
How can it be treated?
NMSCs are usually curable through surgery, where the skin cancer is cut out. The same applies to melanomas but a larger area of normal skin is removed as well. Depending on the stage of the melanoma, chemotherapy or targeted therapy may be required.
As with most cancers, early detection gives you the best chance of recovery. Often, pre-cancerous areas, if detected, can sometimes be treated with non-surgical methods such as freezing with liquid nitrogen or topical therapies.
See a doctor if you have:
- A skin ulcer that is not healing, is painless and has been present for over a month
- A mole that is getting darker, increasing in size or becoming irregular
- A raised skin bump or red crusted growth that is increasing in size, particularly on the head and neck