Skin cancer occurs
when tissue grows at an uncontrollable and unpredictable
rate forming an abnormal growth. A diagnosis
of skin cancer can be a cause for real concern.
If left untreated, the disease will continue
to progress and can cause considerable damage,
disfigurement, or even death. However, skin
cancer is usually not life threatening and therapy
does not have to be disfiguring. If detected
early, skin cancer can be treated successfully.
The most common types of skin cancer include
basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma,
and malignant melanoma.
Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type
of skin cancer. It arises from the bottom or
base of the uppermost skin layer (epidermis).
Most BCC’s do not spread beyond the skin
to other parts of the body; nonetheless, they
should be removed because of the extensive local
damage they can do to the skin, muscle, bone,
and vital structures nearby such as the eyes,
lips, etc. A BCC can have a varied appearance.
Typically it appears as a small pearly or pink
skin-colored bump. It may also appear as a scar-like
growth or scaly area.
Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
cell carcinoma is the second most common type
of skin cancer. This type of skin cancer develops
from cells above the basal layer of the epidermis
known as squamous cells. This is a potentially
more dangerous type of cancer than BCC because
of its ability to sometimes “break away”
(metastasize) from the skin and spread to local
lymph nodes or less commonly to distant areas
of the body. SCC also has a greater potential
to recur after surgery. SCC may appear as a
persistent rough scaly area or a hard red bump.
3. Malignant Melanoma (MM)
The third most common
type of skin cancer is malignant melanoma. This
type of skin cancer develops from the pigment
forming cells in the skin known as melanocytes.
Its appearance may vary but classically it is
black or brown with varied asymmetric pigment
and irregular borders. It has a strong tendency
to metastasize (spread) to distant organs and
is thus potentially the most life threatening
skin cancer. Fortunately, early detection and
surgical removal can result in a high cure rate.
Moles that are unusual in appearance or changing
should be evaluated by your physician to help
detect melanoma early.
are the signs of skin cancer?
to the Centers for Disease Control,
skin cancer is the most common
and rapidly increasing form of
cancer in the United States.
- Half of all
new cancers are skin cancers.
- One in four
Americans will develop skin cancer
in his or her lifetime.
1.2 million new cases of skin
cancer are diagnosed in the U.S.
- The lifetime risk
of developing malignant melanoma is
estimated to be 1 in 50 and has risen
sharply since the late 1930's when
it was 1 in 1500.
- Any growth or
mark that has changed, grown or looks suspicious
may indicate the presence of skin cancer.
The following signs should be promptly investigated:
new growth on the skin that does not
disappear in four to six weeks
skin lesion that grows larger and turns
red, brown, black or is multicolored
A mole, birthmark or beauty mark that
increases in size, changes color or
texture or becomes irregular in outline
open sore or wound that refuses to heal,
persists for more than four weeks or
heals and later reopens
- Any skin spot
or growth that continues to itch, hurt,
crust over, forms a scab or sore, or
bleeds for several weeks
skin growths may resemble skin cancer, but
not all are malignant. Any suspicious-looking
growth should be discussed with a Dermatologist.
causes skin cancer?
to sunlight, including tanning, is generally
considered to be the leading cause of skin
cancer. Most individuals receive 80 percent
of their lifetime sun exposure by the age
of 18. The effects of sun damage are cumulative
over many years of exposure and typically
result in most skin cancers appearing in later
adulthood. Approximately 90 percent of sun-induced
skin cancer occurs in areas of the body with
the greatest sun exposure, such as the head,
neck, and forearms. Family history is also
a strong indicator of risk in certain ethnic
groups, especially those who have fair complexions
or tend to burn and blister easily upon sun
exposure. The more people with fair complexions
are exposed to the sun, the more likely they
are to develop skin cancer.
Other causes include repeated medical and
industrial X-ray exposure, scarring from severe
burns and occupational exposure to certain
is skin cancer treated?
method chosen depends upon the location
of the cancer, its size and the type of
previous therapies, if any. Common treatments
include curettage and electrodessication
(scraping and destroying the tissue by electric
current), cryosurgery (freezing diseased
tissue), radiation therapy and standard
surgical excision. In these therapies, the
physician must make an educated visual estimate
about the size of the tumor and the margins
outside the tumor that must be removed for
It is important to note that
treatments relying on the human eye to determine
safety margin may prove ineffective. Removal
of skin cancer is often complex because a tumor
visible to the naked eye is usually the “tip
of the iceberg”. It may have roots that
are invisible, extending beyond the boundaries
of the visible center. If these cancer cells
are not completely removed they can lead to
a recurrence of the tumor. When too little tissue
is removed the cancer is not fully excised;
when too much tissue is removed healthy tissue
is lost. Because the Mohs procedure is microscopically
controlled, it removes all the cancer and preserves
as much healthy tissue as possible.
The treatment of each
skin cancer must be individualized, taking into
consideration such factors as the patient’s
age, location of the cancer, type of cancer,
and whether or not the cancer has been previously
treated. In some instances, more than one type
of skin cancer therapy may be appropriate. Your
physician will discuss treatment alternatives
with you to help decide what is the best treatment
in your individual case.
I prevent skin cancer?
of skin cancer is the best treatment. In general,
the best practice is to limit the exposure
of the skin to the sun, especially between
10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Sunscreens with a rating
of at least 15 SPF should be used and reapplied
approximately every two hours and after swimming.
It is important to note that 80 percent of
sun damage occurs in the first 18 years of
life; therefore prevention should be practiced
at an early age.
For more information
contact the American Academy of Dermatology