White skin cancer: recognizing and treating the preliminary stages | NDR.de – Guide

Status: 04.07.2022 09:36

White skin cancer is more common than black. If basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are detected in time, the chances of recovery are good. The cause is often intense sunlight.

More than 200,000 people in Germany develop white skin cancer, also known as fair skin cancer, every year. It can appear anywhere on the body, but is more common in places where the sun often hits the skin: head, neck, ears, hands, and arms. White skin cancer has a good chance of healing and is rarely fatal, but it is still not without risk.

UV rays increase the risk: how much sun is too much?

If people are exposed to the sun for years without protection, that is, without sunscreen or clothing, white skin cancer can develop. Every minute in the sun, every sunburn, adds up over the course of a lifetime. At some point the skin cells are overloaded and skin cancer can develop. It takes 20 to 30 years and a relatively large amount of solar radiation for a cell to turn into cancer. When this point is reached, the entire surface has received this UV energy and it cannot be reversed.

A single sunburn can cause up to 100,000 damage to the genetic material, which either needs to be repaired or leads to the death of the affected cell. With increasing sun exposure and increasing age, the cells’ ability to repair themselves decreases, so that defective cells can multiply and degenerate into pale skin cancer.

Actinic keratoses are precursors of spinaloma

Nearly a quarter of non-melanoma skin cancer cases are so-called squamous cell carcinomas or spinalomas and thus the second most common form of non-melanoma skin cancer in Germany. Squamous cell carcinoma develops from the squamous layer of the skin.

Initially, precursors are formed, the so-called actinic keratoses. These small skin-colored bumps or red patches of scaly skin develop over the years from sun exposure. Actinic keratoses become more common with age.

Dermatologists warn that this skin disease is on the rise due to changes in leisure and travel behavior in retirement age and is usually underestimated, as every tenth untreated actinic keratosis turns into a spinaloma. While actinic keratosis is limited to the top layer of the skin, the spinalioma spreads to the deeper layers.

Squamous cell carcinoma (spinaloma) can metastasize

Unlike the particularly dangerous black skin cancer (melanoma), the spinalioma is usually limited to a small area and only in three percent of cases forms secondary tumors (metastases) in other parts of the body, especially in the lymph nodes.

To prevent progression of squamous cell carcinoma, suspicious sites must be detected and removed as soon as possible.

Basal cell carcinoma (basalioma): Early diagnosis facilitates surgery

About three-quarters of mild forms of skin cancer are basal cell carcinomas or basaliomas. The most common type of skin cancer arises from the basal cell layer. This form of skin cancer grows slowly and does not metastasize, but it can enlarge and spread deeply. Therefore, a basal cell carcinoma should be removed as soon as possible.

Basal cell carcinomas usually double in size within a year and the larger the tumor, the more doctors have to cut away. A safety margin is important so that no residual tumors remain in the skin. For example, if the tumor is one centimeter in size, then at least half a centimeter of healthy tissue should also be removed. Disfiguring scars are often left, which would have been much smaller if the operation had been done at an early stage.

If the disease is very advanced, the tumor grows into cartilage, muscles, nerves, and even bones. So, for example, parts of the nose or ear must also be removed.

Every second patient gets another clear skin cancer within three years. That is why those affected have to undergo follow-up exams again and again. The stronger the skin is exposed to sun, the more frequently clear skin cancer recurs.

Early diagnosis of white skin cancer

Anyone who notices rough spots that don’t go away on their own and feels like sandpaper should therefore definitely get them examined by a dermatologist as soon as possible to allow for early treatment. Dermatologists warn that most patients go to the doctor late, usually with a delay of one year. And then the treatment is much more complex and stressful than it should be if it was detected early.

Regular checks are important

Since sun damage usually doesn’t affect just one spot, both basal cell carcinomas and spinal cell carcinomas often reappear in new places after some time. The only thing that helps against this is a regular early diagnosis exam to find and remove the tumors in good time.

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Further information

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Any exposure to the sun increases the risk of skin cancer. With the right protection, you can enjoy the summer. Moreover

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Although sunlight is good for you, it also has harmful effects and can cause skin cancer. How do you effectively protect yourself from this? Advice from dermatologist Melanie Hartmann. Moreover

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