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Can you get skin cancer on your hands? You may be surprised

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We put hats on our heads, clothing on our bodies and sunscreen on our faces, but our hands can often be left exposed to the sun more than we realise. Skin cancer can affect the hands, with squamous cell carcinoma being the most common type. The two other major types of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma and the often-deadly melanoma, can also affect the hands

Without protection from the sun's harmful rays, everyday activities such as driving or playing sport, even hanging the washing out on the clothesline, can leave the delicate skin on our hands open to ultraviolet (UV) exposure - the number one cause of skin cancer. Skin cancers on the hand can also be caused by exposure to chemicals, immune disorders and, in some cases, genetics can play a role. 

How common is skin cancer on the hands?

The skin is the most common part of the body in which cancer develops. Unfortunately, Australia has an above-average rate of cases of skin cancer due to our outdoor-loving lifestyles, the fair skin of much of our population and our proximity to the equator. Any skin that's left exposed to sun damage, such as the head, scalp, face, neck, feet and arms, is at risk, but people often overlook the hands when it comes to covering up. 

In 2018, melanoma of the skin was the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia. Cancer Australia recently estimated the rate will continue to grow, soon making it the third most commonly diagnosed cancer.  

How can I prevent skin cancer on my hands?

Most Australians are familiar with the Cancer Council's guidelines on preventing skin cancer - slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen, slap on a hat, seek shade and slide on some sunglasses. When it comes to your hands, you could consider these extra precautionary steps.   

  • Avoid sun exposure during the hottest parts of the day
  • Use SPF 50+ sunscreen each day, particularly on the back of the hand
  • Purchase gloves with UV protection to wear while undertaking activities such as driving 
  • Consider tinting the windows of your car to prevent harmful UV rays 
  • Develop a habit of checking the skin on your hands regularly so that you will notice when something looks out of place 
  • Avoid exposure to chemicals such as arsenic  
  • Limit exposure to UV lights popular at nail salons

What are the risk factors for developing skin cancer on the hands?

  • Spending lots of time outside without any sun protection or during the hottest part of the day
  • A family history of skin cancer 
  • Fair skin and/or hair colour and freckles
  • A compromised immune system 
  • A history of sunburn 
  • Having a large number of moles
  • Using tanning beds or solariums 

If you do find that you meet any of these criteria, putting in place a plan for regular skin checks is imperative. After all, it could save your skin or even your life. 

What are the signs you may have skin cancer on your hands?

  • Small, firm nodules on the skin that appear to be brown, tan or translucent
  • Any unusual growth or change in size or shape to moles (or new moles)
  • Lesions, scaly spots and ulcers which are bleeding or crusting 
  • Red skin which is sore or itchy
  • Sores on the skin which fail to heal 

While some symptoms of skin cancer are easy to spot, others can appear as subtle changes on your skin. Not all cancers look the same, so making an appointment at your local skin cancer clinic for a diagnosis is a good idea if you notice any of the above changes.

Note that while skin cancers are less common on the palm of the hand, they have been known to occur there. This type of skin cancer, called acral lentiginous melanoma, can appear on the palms, soles of the feet or even under fingernails.

Should I worry about sunspots and rashes on my hands?

Our hands are frequently exposed to UV rays and chemicals and therefore are a common place to find itchy spots and rashes. But like many types of cancer, skin cancers normally start as precancerous lesions. 

What are sunspots?

Sunspots, also known as actinic or solar keratosis, are small dry patches of skin that can be pink, red or flesh-coloured. They are the most common precancer that forms on the skin that has been damaged by chronic exposure to UV rays. These small lesions can increase your risk of developing skin cancer. 

A sore spot or raised bump on the skin may appear harmless to the untrained eye. However, these can sometimes be the first sign of rare and aggressive forms of skin cancer such as merkel cell carcinoma

Bowen's Disease

Squamous cell carcinoma in situ, also known as bowen's disease, is a very early form of skin cancer.  It can be easy to treat if it is detected early as it has not yet spread further than the top layer of skin. However, it can often be mistaken for a minor skin ailment such as eczema, fungal infection or psoriasis, which is why it's important to have regular skin checks.

Mycosis Fungoides

Mycosis fungoides is another type of cancer that occurs when white blood cells become cancerous and often a rash on the skin is the first sign. This rare type of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma can start on the skin and spread through the body. 

What are the treatment options for skin cancer on the hands?

Following a diagnosis, your doctor is the best person to suggest a course of treatment for you. These can include but are not limited to: 

  • Surgical removal 
  • Freezing or cryotherapy with liquid nitrogen
  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy 

The doctors at SunDoctors are additionally trained to repair and manage wounds following skin cancer removal. They can perform reconstructive surgery and scar revision to improve the appearance of scars following surgery. 

Is skin cancer on the hands hereditary?

In some cases, yes. Certain genetic conditions such as xeroderma pigmentosum (where the body is incapable of repairing DNA damage following short exposure to UV rays) and Gorlin syndrome have a higher risk of skin cancer. There are also some genetic factors that will make you more predisposed to sun damage, such as inheriting fair skin, freckles or light-coloured hair from your parents. 

Melanoma can run in families and about one in every 10 people diagnosed with melanoma has a first-degree family member (ie: parents, siblings or children) with a history of the disease. If more than one person in your family has had melanoma, this can also add to your risk of developing the disease. This may be due to inheriting fair skin or freckles from your family, a shared love of the great outdoors, certain gene mutations that run in the family, or a combination of all of these factors. 

What should I do if I suspect skin cancer on my hands? 

As with all skin cancers, prevention and early detection are key.

Skin check appointments are completely safe, pain free and can take as little as 15 minutes. They are conducted by doctors who have a wealth of experience in skin cancer diagnosis and access to the latest technology.  Book your skin check with SunDoctors today

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