Skin Cancer

Detecting and treating the Most Common Cancer

It is estimated that 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime1.

When detected early, however, skin cancer is highly treatable.  This is why at The Dermatology Center we offer and highly recommend a thorough skin examination for skin cancer every year. Individuals with the following characteristics may be more susceptible to developing skin cancer:

  • New or changed growth
  • Family history of skin cancer
  • Personal history of skin cancer
  • History of blistering sunburns
  • History of exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun, tanning beds or sun lamps
  • Numerous moles
  • Large, asymmetrical, or unusual-looking moles
  • Fair skin
  • The tendency to burn and freckle rather than tan
  • Immunosuppressive medications

 

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer develops when damaged cells begin to grow and divide uncontrollably. As the damaged cells multiply, they form a tumor.

What are the types of skin cancer?

There are three main types of skin cancer. These cancers begin in a different type of cell within the skin and each cancer is named for the type of cell in which it begins. The three main types of skin cancer are:

  • Basal cell carcinoma (BCC). BCC is the most common cancer in humans. BCCs usually appear in sun-exposed areas. These tumors tend to grow slowly and can take years to reach an inch in size. While these tumors very rarely metastasize (cancer spreading to other parts of the body), early diagnosis and treatment is important in order to prevent extensive damage to surrounding tissue.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). While most commonly found on sun-exposed areas of the body, SCC can develop anywhere, including the inside of the mouth and the genitalia. SCC requires early treatment in order to prevent metastasis (cancer spreading to other parts of the body).
  • Melanoma. This form of skin cancer can be life-threatening because it can rapidly spread to the lymph system and internal organs. In the United States alone, approximately one person dies from melanoma every hour. With early detection and proper treatment, however, the cure rate for melanoma is about 95%.

What is recommended for skin examinations?

A yearly skin exam by a dermatologist along with self-examination of your skin once a month is the best way to detect the early warning signs of basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma, the three main types of skin cancer.

What are the signs of skin cancer?

Skin cancer may arise in a number of ways. People of all races and skin types get skin cancer. If you notice any of the following signs or symptoms, consult a dermatologist as soon as possible.

  • Any skin lesion that grows larger and turns pearly, translucent, brown, black, or multi-colored
  • An open sore or wound that does not heal, persists for more than four weeks, or heals and later reopens
  • Any skin spot growth that continues to itch, hurt, crust over, form a scab, erode, or bleed for several weeks

What are the signs of melanoma? (The American Cancer Society’s ABCDE rule):

  • Asymmetry: One half of the mole does not match the other half.
  • Border Irregularity: The edges are tagged, notched, or blurred.
  • Color: The pigmentation is not uniform. Shades of tan, brown, and black are present. Dashes of red, white, and blue add to the mottled appearance. Changes in color distribution, especially the spread of color from the edge of a mole into the surrounding skin, also are an early sign of melanoma.
  • Diameter: The mole or skin growth is larger than 6 mm, or about the size of a pencil eraser. Any growth of a mole should be of concern.
  • Elevation/Enlarging: A mole suddenly grows in size or rapidly becomes elevated.

What are skin cancer treatments?

There are several effective methods for treating skin cancer. The method chosen will depend upon factors such as location, size and prior therapy. Methods include surgical removal with suturing, curettage and electrodessication, radiotherapy, cryosurgery, topical chemotherapy and Mohs Micrographic Surgery.

1Robinson JK. Sun Exposure, Sun Protection, and Vitamin D. JAMA 2005; 294: 1541-43.

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