Diseases & Conditions


Skin Cancer

Diseases & Conditions

Skin Cancer

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is a cancer that usually arises from the skin that has been exposed to sunlight, but can occur anywhere on the body. There are three different types of skin cancer: melanoma, basal cell, and squamous cell. Squamous cell and basal cell skin cancers are sometimes called non melanoma skin cancer

Skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer. One in every three cancers diagnosed is a skin cancer.1 Currently, between 2 and 3 million non-melanoma skin cancers and 132,000 melanoma skin cancers occur globally each year.1

Studies from Saudi Arabia indicate that skin cancer accounts for 3.2% of all newly diagnosed cases in year 2010.2 This cancer was ranked ninth in both genders.3


What causes skin cancer?

Most skin cancers are caused by ultraviolet light from the sun damaging the DNA in skin cells. Artificial sources of light, such as sunlamps and tanning beds, also could cause the development of skin cancer. However, sometimes skin cancer develops on skin not exposed to sunlight. This shows that other factors could be implicated in causing this type of cancer other than sunlight.4


What are the risk factors for skin cancer?

Risk factors that increase the risk of developing skin cancer include:5

  • Natural skin color: People who have pale skin that does not tan easily, red or blonde hair and light-colored eyes are at increased risk of skin cancer.
  • Having an area of skin previously damaged by sunburns increases the risk of developing skin cancer.
  • Excessive sun exposure without wearing sunscreen protection
  • Family history of skin cancer
  • Personal history of skin cancer
  • Sunny or high-altitude climates: People living in sunny climates and at higher elevations where the sunlight is strongest are at more risk of developing skin cancer.
  • Weak immune system
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Certain types and a large number of moles: People who have many moles or abnormal moles called dysplastic nevi are at increased risk of skin cancer.
  • Exposure to certain substances: Exposure to arsenic for example increases the risk of developing skin cancer.


What are the symptoms of skin cancer?

Skin cancer develops on the skin causing a spot or sore that itches, hurts, bleed and does not heal within four weeks. Signs and symptoms of skin cancer depend on the type of cancer:6

  • Squamous cell skin cancers: These types of cancer may appear as pink lumps. They may have hard or scaly skin on the surface. They can bleed easily and develop into an ulcer.
  • Non-squamous cell skin cancers: These types of cancer may appear as a small, slow growing, shiny, pink or red lump. They can also look like red scaly patches.


How is skin cancer diagnosed?

A diagnosis of skin cancer includes an examination of the skin and a biopsy:7

  • Examination of the skin: The doctor will check for signs and symptoms of skin cancer. If skin cancer is suspected, he will order further tests to confirm the diagnosis.
  • Skin biopsy: A small part of the affected skin will be removed and tested under a microscope.


How is skin cancer treated?

Treatment of skin cancer depends on the severity, depth and location of the lesions. Skin cancer treatments include:8

  • Freezing: This treatment consists of pouring liquid nitrogen over the skin cancer in an attempt to freeze the cancer.
  • Excisional surgery: This surgery consists of cutting out the cancer along with surrounding healthy tissue to ensure the cancer is completely removed.
  • Mohs surgery: This surgery involves removing the tumor bit by bit, as well as a small area of skin surrounding it.
  • Curettage and electrodessication or cryotherapy: This treatment consists of scraping away layers of cancer cells using a curet.
  • Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy involves using medicines to kill cancerous cells.


How can skin cancer be prevented?

A person can reduce his risks of skin cancer by taking the following steps:9

  • Seeking the shade especially between 10 am and 4 pm
  • Avoiding spending long periods in the sun and burning
  • Avoiding tanning and ultraviolet tanning booth
  • Covering up with clothing
  • Wearing a broad-brimmed hat in the sun
  • Wearing ultraviolet-blocking sunglasses in the sun
  • Using a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 15 or higher every day
  • Applying one ounce of sunscreen to the entire body one hour before going out
  • Examining the skin of the entire body once every month
  • Visiting the physician once a year for a professional skin cancer examination



  1. Skin cancers (WHO) http://www.who.int/uv/faq/skincancer/en/index1.html (Accessed January 17, 2016)
  2. Alwunais, Khalid M., and Sohail Ahmad. "Pattern of skin cancer at Dammam Medical Complex in Dammam, Saudi Arabia." Journal of Dermatology & Dermatologic Surgery (2015).
  3. Saudi Cancer Registry, 2010 Saudi Cancer Registry, cancer incidence report, Saudi Arabia, 2010.
  4. Skin cancer (non-melanoma) - Causes (Skin cancer (non-melanoma)) http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Cancer-of-the-skin/Pages/Causes.aspx (Accessed January 17, 2016)
  5. Skin cancer (Risk factors) http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/skin-cancer/basics/risk-factors/con-20031606 (Accessed January 17, 2016)
  6. Skin cancer symptoms (Skin cancer symptoms) http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/type/skin-cancer/about/skin-cancer-symptoms (Accessed January 17, 2016)
  7. Skin cancer (non-melanoma) - Diagnosis (Skin cancer (non-melanoma)) http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Cancer-of-the-skin/Pages/Diagnosis.aspx (Accessed January 18, 2016)
  8. Skin cancer (Treatments and drugs) http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/skin-cancer/basics/treatment/con-20031606 (Accessed January 18, 2016)
  9. Skin Cancer Foundation (Preventing Skin Cancer) http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/sun-protection/prevention-guidelines/preventing-skin-cancer (Accessed January 18, 2016)