Skin cancer, Melanoma

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.

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. 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. 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. The most important recommendations for preventing skin cancer 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
  • use sunscreen
  • avoid using solariums

All three types of skin cancer generally affect older people. But young people can also develop melanoma – in fact, it is the most common type of cancer among people in that age group.

Given that the appearance of skin cancer can vary greatly, every new mole or changes in existing moles should be examined by a doctor. Warning signs include abnormal spots on the skin with irregular edges, itchy moles, pigmentations or lumps that bleed, as well as pigmentations that change in size and colour. People with a large number of moles should have them checked regularly (annually) by a dermatologist.

To establish a diagnosis, a tissue sample is taken from the suspicious mole or lump. If the doctor’s suspicion is confirmed, the skin cancer is surgically removed. This is usually sufficient to cure basal cell carcinomas and spinaliomas. 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. The success of melanoma treatments depends on the cancer’s stage of development. If detected early, there is a good chance that melanoma can be successfully treated with surgery. If metastases have already started to form, other treatment options such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy are used.