What is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is the abnormal growth of skin cells that often develops on areas that have been exposed to the sun over time. If caught and treated early, this common type of cancer can be cured before it spreads to other areas of the body. Skin cancer is one of the most common kinds of cancer today, impacting one out of every five men and women in the U.S. More skin cancers are diagnosed every year than breast, lung, colon and prostate cancers combined.
The Most Common Types of Skin Cancer
- Basal cell carcinoma. Ninety percent of skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas, which typically appear as slow-growing fleshy bumps or non-healing nodules on sun-exposed areas. These cancers tend to grow slowly and do not usually spread. Suspicious bumps include those that are pearl-like or waxy in appearance, pink or transparent with visible blood vessels, or dented in the center.
- Squamous cell carcinoma. Squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common type of skin cancer, often presents as a scaly, red patch of skin on sun-exposed areas. If not treated, it is more likely to spread than basal cell carcinoma.
- Melanoma. Melanoma is the rarest and most dangerous form of skin cancer, but even melanoma can be cured if detected in the early stages. It develops within melanocytes, which produce skin pigment. Melanoma often appears as a new growth or a change to an existing mole. Symptoms include mole asymmetrical shape, irregular borders, inconsistent color or a sudden increase in size.
- Frequent or intense exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun or tanning beds.
- Age 40 or older.
- Fair complexion.
- Light-colored eyes.
- Blond or red hair.
- Family history of skin cancer.
- History of blistering sunburns.
Note: Having one or more risk factors does not mean you will get cancer, and many people who get the disease may not have any known risk factors.
Symptoms of basal and squamous cell carcinomas
- New moles.
- Old moles that change in appearance.
- A shiny, pinkish, pearl-like or transparent bump.
- Rough, red patch of skin.
- A new wart-like bump.
- Sores that do not heal or that heal and then return.
- Scar-like growths where no scar existed previously.
Symptoms of melanomas
Melanomas may have some of the same warning signs as basal and squamous cell carcinomas. In addition, melanomas have other warning signs. When examining your skin, remember the A, B, C, D and E’s of melanoma:
Asymmetry – The shape of the mole or growth is not symmetrical.
Border – The growth has an irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border.
Color – The color of a growth varies from one area to another.
Diameter – Melanomas are usually greater than ¼ inch when diagnosed.
Evolving – The mole or growth looks different from others or changes in size, shape or color.
- Limit your time in the sun and avoid the midday rays (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.).
- Use a generous amount of water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher.
- Avoid tanning beds and sun lamps.
- Wear sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats whenever possible.
- Check your skin regularly for lumps, bumps or marks.
- Schedule regular skin-cancer screenings with your dermatologist.
Skin Cancer Treatment
Skin cancer treatment is different for each case. Dr. Watson will diagnose the type of cancer and then determine what type of treatment will work best for you. Some of the many options available include:
- Excision. This procedure involves numbing and surgically removing the growth during an office visit that lasts approximately 20 minutes.
- Electrodesiccation and curettage. The abnormal tissue is numbed and scraping away with a special tool. The doctor may need to repeat the procedure, which typically takes only 5 minutes. A small white mark may remain.
- Topical medication. Topical creams are applied to destroy certain types of cancer cells.
- Cryotherapy. This procedure involves using liquid nitrogen to destroy visible actinic keratoses. Healing after this simple procedure takes only a week or two, and afterward a small white mark may remain.
- Radiation. A low-dose X-ray can destroy skin cancer. Often, radiation is performed during multiple sessions.
- Photodynamic therapy. Red or blue laser light can destroy cancer cells.
Skin Cancer Prognosis
Early detection can save your life. Even melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, has a 99-percent cure rate if treated early. Although skin cancer can recur, taking preventative measures and receiving prompt treatment are keys to staying healthy.
Especially if you have had skin cancer in the past, do not forget to perform monthly skin-cancer self-examinations, and follow your dermatologist’s advice regarding the frequency of full-body skin checks.
Reach out to Pensacola Dermatology for your skin-cancer screening now.