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Difference between skin cancer and warts

Skin cancer vs warts

The increasing pollution, exposure to sun and tanning are slowly taking a toll on the natural health of our skin. The skin, the largest organ of our body, is often taken for granted and treated as nothing more than an object of appreciation. It is forgotten that the skin is the first line of defence and protection for our body. Skin is a reservoir for inactivated vitamin D which gets activated on exposure to sun’s rays. The skin also functions as a barrier against cold and excretes sweat to cool the body helping maintain body temperature and electrolyte balance.

The past few years have seen a steadily growing incidence of skin cancer. Skin cancer is most commonly seen in middle-aged adults and a positive family history of skin cancer is a strong risk factor. Other risk factors for skin cancer are artificial tanning, excessive sun exposure, smoking, Human Papilloma Virus infections, medications like cyclosporine and azathioprine, chronic ulcers and congenital nevi turning cancerous. The exact cause for cancer is not known.

The cause for warts is an infection with the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).

Skin cancer can be of various types. A Basal cell carcinoma would present as a smooth and pearly bump on skin areas which are exposed to sun a lot like face, shoulders or neck. The tumor breaks and bleeds often, looking like a non-healing wound. This is the least fatal variant and can be completely cured if identified in time and treated adequately, without any scarring. Another type of skin cancer, the squamous cell carcinoma looks like a red, scaly patch with some hard nodes on sun-exposed areas of the body. Bleeding and ulceration are common. This is the second commonest skin cancer and dangerous if not treated in time. The worst and the commonest skin cancer is the melanoma which is a hyperpigmented patch of skin varying from light brown to black. Any change in an old mole or occurrence of new moles with itching, pain or redness should warn against something away from the normal.

Warts can be flat, raised, conical, horny, finger-like thin or cauliflower-like. They can be hard, firm or soft and fleshy. They are harmless cosmetic growths that can disappear spontaneously in a few months or recur repeatedly. They are generally found on hands and feet but the face and neck are often affected too. They are painless but itching might be occasionally noticed. They may spread to other parts of the body via a wounded skin. They are treated commonly by lasers, cryosurgery, electrodessication, topical acidic creams like fluorouracil, salicylic acid, etc.
They might reappear at the same spot or elsewhere on the body.

A vaccine is available to prevent genital warts. No vaccine is available for skin cancer.

Take home pointers:

Skin cancer is an abnormal, uncontrolled overgrowth of the cells of the skin that can vary from an ulcer to a black melanoma to a red squamous cell carcinoma.
Warts are outgrowths due to infections with Human Papilloma virus and can occur anywhere on the body.
Symptoms of skin cancer are itching, scaling, non healing wound, change in old nevi, new nevi with pain/itching/redness.
Symptoms of warts are hard/soft painless outgrowths on extremities or elsewhere on the body.
Diagnosis of skin cancer is by biopsy of skin while warts are diagnosed purely by clinical observation.
Treatment of skin cancer depends on type of cancer, stage, spread, etc. Radiation, chemotherapy and lasers are commonly used.
Treatment for warts is via lasers, acidic local applications, cryosurgery, electrodessication, surgical removal, topical creams, etc. Recurrence is common post treatment.

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