Examining Your Skin
Examining Your Skin
- By Irene Vergos, Healthcare Pharmacist at Direct Chemist Outlet
The skin is the largest organ of the human body, with an area of about 2 square meters for most adults. More than just a fleshy surface for pimples and wrinkles, the skin plays a crucial role in providing an airtight, watertight and flexible barrier. It protects us from microorganisms, helps control body temperature, and allows the sensation of touch, heat and cold. Let’s delve a little closer and see what our skin is made up of.
Our skin is divided into three layers known as the epidermis, dermis and subcutis layer.
Epidermis – The epidermis is the thin outer layer of skin that is visible to the eye. This outermost cellular layer, provides a waterproof barrier made up of keratinocytes (which include basal cells and squamous cells) and contains pigment producing cells known as melanocytes.
Dermis – Beneath the epidermis is the dermis, which is made u of a dense layer of collagen and elastin tissue. This layer contains tough connective tissue, nerve endings, oil and sweat glands and hair follicles.
Subcutis – Also known as hypodermis, is the deepest layer, made up of fat, connective tissue and larger blood vessels. This layer helps to cushion the body from external trauma, insulate from the cold and stores energy (fat).
What is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is the abnormal growth of skin cells, usually from too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. The rapid growth of skin cells leads to tumours in the skin, which can either be benign (non-cancerous), or malignant (cancerous tumours that spread through the body, causing damage). Most skin cancers start in the epidermis. When a skin cancer becomes more advanced, it generally grows through this layer and into the deeper layers of skin.
There are three main types of skin cancer.
Basal Cell Carinoma (BCC)
- Basal cells are the round cells found in the lower epidermis.
- Accounts for about 66% of skin cancers.
- Grows slowly and rarely spreads to other parts of the body.
- Usually found on the upper body, head or neck
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
- Squamous cells are flat cells that make up most of the epidermis.
- Accounts for about 33% of skin cancers.
- Grows over months and may spead if not treated.
- Often found on lips, ears, scalp, backs of the hands and lower legs.
- Melanocytes are scattered cells found where the epidermis meets the dermis.
- Accounts for 1-2% of skin cancers.
- Grows quickly over weeks to months.
- If left untreated can spread to other parts of the body and can be fatal.
- Can grow anywhere on the body, not just areas exposed to the sun.
Reducing Your Risk
Reducing your exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation and checking your skin regularly are two of the most important steps in reducing your risk to skin cancer. If you do notice any changes in your skin, it is best to seek medical advice promptly. Early detection of skin cancer gives you the greatest chance for successful skin cancer treatment.
Use the ABCDE of melanoma detection guide when checking your skin.
Asymmetry - If you were to draw a line down the middle of the mole or spot, would each side match up?
Border - Does the mole or spot have a irregular, jagged edge?
Colours - Is the mole or spot blotchy or uneven in colour?
Diameter - Is the mole or spot getting bigger?
Evolution - Is the mole or spot changing or growing?
DISCLAIMER: This material contains general information about medical conditions and treatments and is intended for educational purposes only. It does not constitute medical or professional advice, nor should it be used for the purposes of diagnosing or treating any illness. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, you should consult your local pharmacist or health provider to obtain professional advice relevant to your specific circumstances.