Skin cancer is a malignant growth on the skin which can have many causes. Skin cancer generally develops in the epidermis (the outermost layer of skin), so a tumor is usually clearly visible. This makes most skin cancers detectable in the early stages. There are three common types of skin cancer, each of which is named after the type of skin cell from which it arises. Cancers caused by UV exposure may be prevented by avoiding exposure to sunlight or other UV sources, wearing sun-protective clothes, and using a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
Skin cancer is the fastest-growing type of cancer in the United States. Skin cancer represents the most commonly diagnosed malignancy, surpassing lung, breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer.
Risk Factors of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is most closely associated with chronic inflammation of the skin. This includes:
- Sunburn or excessive sun damage, especially early in life. UVA & UVB have both been implicated in causing DNA damage resulting in cancer.
- Sun exposure between 10AM and 4PM is thought to be most harmful.
- Natural (sun) & artificial UV exposure (tanning salons) are associated with skin cancer.
- Chronic non-healing wounds, especially burns. These are called Marjolin's ulcers based on their appearance and can develop into squamous cell carcinoma.
- Genetic predisposition, including congenital melanocytic nevi syndrome (CMNS). CMNS is characterized by the presence of "nevi" or moles of varying size that either appear at or within 6 months of birth. Nevi larger than 20 mm (3/4 in) in size are at higher risk for becoming cancerous.
Signs and Symptoms of Skin Cancer
There are a variety of different skin cancer symptoms. These include scabs or changes in the skin that do not heal, ulcers in the skin, discoloration, and changes in existing moles.
Basal cell carcinoma usually looks like a raised, smooth, pearly bump on the sun-exposed skin of the head, neck, or shoulders. Sometimes small blood vessels can be seen within the tumor. Crusting and bleeding in the center of the tumor frequently develops. It is often mistaken for a sore that does not heal.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is commonly a red, scaling, thickened patch on sun-exposed skin. Ulceration and bleeding may occur. When SCC is not treated, it may develop into a large mass.
Melanomas are brown to black looking lesions. Signs that might indicate a malignant melanoma include a change in size, shape, color, or elevation of a mole. The appearance of a new mole during adulthood, or new pain, itching, ulceration or bleeding of an existing mole should be checked.
How can you reduce the risks of Skin Cancer?
Although it is impossible to completely eliminate the possibility of skin cancer, the risk of developing such cancer can be reduced significantly with the following steps:
- Reducing exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, especially in early years
- Avoiding sunburns
- Avoiding sun exposure when the sun is highest in the sky
- Wearing protective clothing (long sleeves and hats) when outdoors
- Using a broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB radiation
- Reapplying sunblock every 2 hours and after swimming
How Often Should I Get Screened for Skin Cancer?
If you are in a high-risk category for getting skin cancer, such as having a light complexion or having had multiple bad sunburns in childhood, you should schedule skin cancer screenings on a yearly basis. If you are between the ages of 20 and 40 and have a low risk for skin cancer, you may schedule your screenings every two to three years. That said, regardless of how often you see your dermatologist, you should perform monthly self-examinations to observe your skin for signs of new growths and abnormalities in existing growths or moles.
At What Age Are People Most Prone to Skin Cancer?
Your skin is always susceptible to skin cancer. This is because the primary factor that contributes to this disease is ultraviolet light, and your skin may be exposed to UV rays every time you go outdoors. The vast majority of skin cancers are diagnosed in middle-aged and older adults. The reason being is that it can take many years for the DNA damage that has occurred to rise to the surface in the form of abnormal skin cells. If you are seeing skin cancer now, it is likely a result of sun exposure that you received many years ago.
Can Skin Cancer be Treated?
Most skin cancers can be treated by removal of the lesion, making sure that the edges are free of the tumor cells. These excisions provide the best cure for both early and high-risk disease. For low-risk disease, radiation therapy and cryotherapy (freezing the cancer off) can provide adequate control of the disease; both, however, have lower overall cure rates than surgery.
Mohs surgery is a technique used to remove the cancer with the least amount of surrounding tissue and the edges are checked immediately to see if a tumor is found. This provides the opportunity to remove the least amount of tissue and provide the most cosmetically favorable results. This is especially important for areas where excess skin is limited, such as the face. Cure rates are equivalent to wide excision. In the case of disease that has spread (metastasized) further surgical treatment or chemotherapy may be required.
What is the Best Way to Treat Skin Cancer?
The best way to treat skin cancer will depend on the type, location, and severity of the growth. Studies indicate that early treatment is ideal for preventing tissue damage, so timing may be a more important factor than the type of treatment you have done to eliminate cancerous skin cells. When possible, moderate to severe skin cancers are treated using the Mohs micrographic surgery technique. Though the treatment process takes longer than a standard tissue excision, the success rate of the Mohs procedure is outstanding.
Is Skin Cancer Treatment Painful?
Your skin cancer treatment should not be painful. Our doctors prioritize comfort and, to ensure yours, will administer appropriate anesthesia when necessary. For example, Mohs skin cancer surgery is performed after the doctor injects the surgical site with a powerful local anesthetic. You are awake for the procedure but do not feel any discomfort. After this procedure, you may need to take an over-the-counter pain reliever to minimize localized tenderness and soreness. Other skin cancer treatments, such as cryotherapy to freeze cancer cells, may be slightly uncomfortable. However, this temporary discomfort is tolerable.
Is There Any Necessary Recovery Time after Treatment?
Some skin cancer treatments, such as excision or Mohs surgery, may require some aftercare to help heal the surgical wound. However, recovery generally does not involve taking time off work unless your job requires you to perform strenuous physical activity. After surgical skin cancer treatment, the site is covered with a bandage for several days. You may be advised to remove the dressing and clean the surgical site at least once a day. Your doctor may prescribe an ointment or other medication to apply to the area. If your skin cancer treatment requires aftercare or any time off, your doctor will advise you of the appropriate instructions during your consultation.
The ABCDE’s of Skin Cancer
For early detection of Melanoma, follow the ABCDEs of Skin Cancer
Uneven shape or pattern
Dark black or multiple colors
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If you are looking for a dermatology practice that specializes in skin cancer screening, diagnosis, and treatment, please use the form on this page to schedule a consultation at Hollywood Dermatology by calling 954.961.1200 or visit our contact page for information about our South Florida locations.
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