Skin cancer, which is the most common form of cancer in the United States, is the result of the abnormal growth of skin cells. Cancer can affect skin anywhere on the body, but most frequently appears on skin that is exposed to the sun. There are more than a million new cases of skin cancer in the United States each year.
Every day, skin cells die and new ones form to replace them in a process controlled by DNA. Skin cancer can form when this process does not work properly because of damage to DNA. New cells may form when they are not needed, or older cells may not die, both of which can cause a growth of tissue known as a tumor. DNA damage is often a result of ultraviolet radiation from sunlight or tanning lamps. In some cases, skin cancer affects areas of the skin that have not been exposed to the sun. Certain factors, such as fair skin, moles, a weakened immune system, heredity and age, also increase the risk of skin cancer.
Frequently Asked Skin Cancer Questions:
What are the most common Skin Cancers?
- Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) – is usually found on the sun exposed areas of the skin. It rarely spreads to other parts of the body but can be locally destructive. BCC is the most common form of skin cancer.
- Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) – Usually begins in the uppermost layers of the skin. Most commonly from lifelong sun exposure. SCC’s have the potential to spread to other areas of the body. SCC’S are the second most common skin cancer.
- Melanoma – Typically develops in the cells that make pigment in the skin. Melanoma can spread quickly through lymph nodes and internal organs and is the most serious type of skin cancer. When diagnosed and treated early it has a high cure rate.
What are the warning signs?
- BCC – Shiny nodule or pimple, a sore that won’t heal, a scar like area or rough red patches.
- SCC – Crusted red nodules. (usually on sun exposed skin)
- Melanoma -A growing mole that changes shape, color or size. A mole that is bleeding or painful. A new “mole” that grows rapidly or discoloration of the fingernails.
All that being said, any changes noticed in the skin that are concerning should be checked by a dermatologist.
What are the treatments for skin cancer?
Non-melanoma skin cancers are some of the most treatable. The goal of treatment is to remove all of the cancer. Typically, surgically. Non-surgical treatments may be an option in certain cases. The type of surgical treatment usually depends on the type, size, depth and location of the tumor. Most cases, the procedure is done on an outpatient basis. The most common procedures are:
- MOHS surgery – A “stepwise” excision performed by a dermatologist with special training. MOHS is used for certain types of skin cancer on the head, neck, feet and genitalia. It offers the highest cure rates and best possible cosmetic results.
- Standard Excision – This may be used for melanoma and small non-melanoma skin cancers on the torso and extremities.
- Curettage & Electrodessication – Involves scraping the growth with a curette and cauterizing the area. This may be effective for a subtype of basal cell and early stages of squamous cell.
Is skin cancer becoming more common?
The incidence of skin cancer has been increasing quickly the past few years. One in two men and One in three women will develop non-melanoma skin cancer in their lifetime. Once a patient has a non-melanoma skin cancer there is a higher risk of developing more skin cancers.
What can we do to protect ourselves from the sun?
- Use sunscreen daily.
- Apply sunscreen liberally and reapply at least every two hours after swimming or sweating.
- Minimize sun exposure between 10 AM- 4PM.
- Avoid tanning beds.
- See your dermatologist for yearly skin exams.