What is skin cancer?
One in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their lifetime. With early detection and action, most skin cancers are curable. Skin cancer starts in the cells of the skin and is defined as the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. This happens when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells triggers a mutation. This causes the abnormal cells to then multiply rapidly.
There are three types of skin cancer including melanoma, basal cell, and squamous cell. Both basal and squamous cell skin cancer are common and easily to treat. Unfortunately, melanoma can be more challenging to treat. Early diagnosis and treatment is essential to increase survival rates of melanoma.
Types of Skin Cancer:
- Basal cell carcinoma
- Basal cell is the most common cancer, about 8 out of 10 skin cancers. There are more than 3 million US cases reported per year. This caner presents itself as recurrent sores. There are several types of basal cell carcinoma, including the superficial, nodular, and morpheaform type.
- Basal cell cancers tend to grow slowly, and it is very rare for basal cell to spread to other areas of the body. However, if left untreated it is able spread to nearby areas and enter the bone or other neighboring tissues below the skin.
- Squamous cell carcinoma
- This type of skin cancer accounts for every 2 out of 10 skin cancers. This is a cancer that begins in the squamous cells that are found in the tissue that forms the surface of the skin.
- These commonly appear on sun-exposed areas of the body. They can also turn into chronic sores or scars.
- Melanoma results from the uncontrolled growth of melanocytes. Melanoma is less common accounting for only 1% of skin cancers, but far more serious than the other types of skin cancer. Melanoma usually presents itself as a brown or black mark, but can appear as tan or pink sometimes.
Skin Cancer Risk Factors:
- Exposure to UV rays is the major risk factor for most skin cancers. Sunlight along with tanning beds are the main sources for UV rays. UV rays damage the DNA of skin cells which can later cause those damaged skin cells to grow abnormally.
- Having light colored skin is the next risk factor for skin cancer. Having less pigment in your skin provides less protection against the UV rays.
- People who have many moles are at an increased risk for developing skin cancer.
- Heredity plays an extremely important role when looking at risk factors of melanoma.
- People who smoke are more likely to develop squamous cell skin cancer.
Why Treat Skin Cancer?
Both early detection and treatment of all forms of skin cancer are essential for achieving better outcomes and prevention of the cancer spreading. If left untreated, skin cancer eventually grow beneath the tissues and a small percentage can metastasize to local lymph nodes, tissues, and even organs.
Warning Signs: The ABCDE’s of Melanoma
Because it is so crucial to catch Melanoma as early as possible, physicians have developed the ABCDE strategy for early recognition of this deadly disease.
- A- Asymmetry
- Melanoma lesions are often irregular in shape, one half is typically not like the other half.
- B- Border
- Melanoma lesions usually have irregular borders that are difficult to define.
- C- Color
- The presence of more than one color or an uneven distribution of colors is a warning sign of melanoma.
- D- Diameter
- Melanomas are usually greater than 6mm when diagnosed, however they can be smaller when first detected.
- E- Evolving
- The evolution of a mole has become the most important factor when it comes to diagnosing a melanoma. When a mole is evolving in size, shape, color, or elevation it is important to bring attention to it.
FAQ about Skin Cancer
What are the signs and symptoms of skin cancer?
Most basal cell carcinomas have few to no symptoms. Some appear shiny pink, or like a translucent bump. Basal cell can sometimes look like a pink lesion with raised edges that are crusted in the center. Basal cell can also present itself as a scar-like, waxy, yellow area. However, squamous cell carcinomas can be painful. Squamous cell appear as persistent, red patches. These patches can be scaly and bleed easily. Another sign of a squamous cell carcinoma is an open sore that persists for weeks. Squamous cell can also present itself as a wart-like growth with rough surfaces. Both forms may appear as sores that can bleed, ooze, or crust and typically do not heal. Both basal and squamous cell carcinomas may have raised borders as well.
It can be hard to determine whether or not a mole or sore resembles either basal or squamous cell carcinomas, however using the ABCDE’s method can help. See a health care provider if you notice any unusual spots on your body.
Where are the most common sites for skin cancer development?
Skin cancer can occur anywhere on the body, however it typically appears in areas exposed to the sun. These include areas like the face, scalp, nose, ears, and neck. It is important to preform regular skin exams looking for abnormal spots.
What treatments are possible?
Dr. Sufyan will chose the most appropriate treatment option based on the particular skin cancer or precancerous condition. There are several procedures and technique options including Mohs surgery, excisional surgery, cryosurgery, curettage and desiccation, topical chemotherapy, and laser treatment for precancerous growths.
What is Mohs surgery?
Mohs surgery is a special technique that utilizes both pathology and surgery to remove skin cancer. The goal of Mohs is to free skin of cancer, and achieve the smallest scar doing so. Mohs is a very precise method in which tissue is cut, stained, and then examined under a microscope by a pathologist. Layers of tissue are removed and examined until there is no presence of skin cancer in the sample.
By removing only tissue where cancer is present, this technique combines a high cure rate along with the sparing of healthy tissue. Mohs preserves the maximum amount of normal tissue. All cancer cells can be identified and removed in one outpatient procedure.
Is there much recovery time or pain associated with skin cancer treatment?
There is typically not much pain or discomfort after surgery. Most people are able to return to work and their normal lifestyle within a day or two. You may bathe or shower anytime following surgery, however Dr. Sufyan generally asks that the bandage is kept dry for the first 48 hours.
Mild swelling is normal the first day following your procedure, and can be lessened by ice application. Sleeping with your head propped up may also help decrease any extra swelling after surgery of the head and face area.
How can I prevent a recurrence?
After being treated for skin cancer, you should schedule regular follow-up visits to make sure the cancer hasn’t recurred. However, be mindful to change old habits such as prolonged sun exposure, using SPF of at least 15 on any exposed skin, and examine your skin regularly!
Are there any medications that need to be avoided before surgery?
It is important to avoid taking certain medications, vitamins and herbs two week prior to your surgery. This is because some medications may cause you to bleed more than normal.
Will insurance cover Mohs surgery?
Because Mohs is considered a medical service rather than a cosmetic procedure, most insurance plans cover the procedure. However with the many changes in insurance plans, it is always advised to contact your insurance carrier to confirm your eligibility and benefits.