It is reported that more than 2 million cases of skin cancer occur in the United States each year. One in five Americans will get skin cancer in their lifetime. Every hour someone will die of melanoma in the United States. You can help prevent and detect skin cancer with the help of your dermatologist.
Skin cancer develops when damaged skin cells cannot repair themselves and begin to grow and divide uncontrollably, forming a tumor.
Skin cancer generally develops in the outermost layer of skin, usually allowing detection in its early stages.
Skin cancer most frequently results from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, which harms the DNA with repeated exposure. In addition to repeated exposure to UV light outdoors, you are at increased risk of skin cancer if you:
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) – the most common form of skin cancer usually appears on sun-exposed areas (face, ears, scalp, upper trunk) and may look like a blemish that won’t heal or a shiny, pearly bump that does not go away. It may bleed if minor trauma occurs to that area. Alternatively, basal cell carcinoma my look like a rough, reddened patch. BCC tends to grow slowly and rarely metastasizes.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) – the second most common type usually occurring in sun exposed areas but can develop anywhere on the body. They may arise from pre-cancerous lesions called actinic keratosis which are dry, scaly lesion. Typically they look like a red, crusted bump or rough scaly patch.
Melanoma – the most lethal form of skin cancer because it can spread to the lymph system and internal organs. If often develops in an existing mole or a new mole. Typically they are brown to black lesions that have uneven borders, colors or surfaces. When they appear on sun-damaged skin such as the face, melanomas may look like a brown patch or unevenly colored freckle. Self skin checks are so important to detect changes in existing moles and to spot new ones.
There is a wide range of skin cancer treatments available. Your provider will discuss the appropriate treatment based on several factors including but not limited to:
Treatment methods include different types of surgery as well as a variety of non-surgical procedures.
The treatment goal is to completely remove the cancerous area, which can be achieved through different surgical procedures which include:
Surgery is not always the right treatment choice, such as when the patient’s health may preclude surgical options or additional treatment after surgery may be required. If it is detected early, surgery may not be needed. In such cases, one of the following treatments may be used:
Immunotherapy: If your dermatologists recommends this option, your own immune system will be used to treat the cancer. As part of immunotherapy, you will apply a prescription cream to your skin under the guidance of your dermatologist. The cream, Imiquimod, modifies the way in which your immune system responds.
Chemotherapy: For very thin, superficial skin cancers, your dermatologist may prescribe a topical chemotherapy. The medication is applied topically to the affected area and will destroy the abnormal skin cancer cells. New healthy skin will develop in the treated area once it has healed.
Photodynamic therapy: To perform this procedure, your dermatologist will apply a chemical to the affected area. After the chemical has been on your skin for a few hours, your dermatologist will have you expose that area to a special light, which destroys the cancer cells.
Radiation therapy: Radiation treatment is usually reserved for patients who have very large tumors and would be disfigured by surgery, or for patients who are unable to have surgery due to other health problems. This method typically requires up to 30 separate treatments over a period of weeks.