Skin Cancer

Early detection and prevention

When detected early, treatment for skin cancer may require only a simple outpatient surgery at your dermatologist’s office. If it goes undetected, skin cancer can spread and become life threatening. Treatments for advanced skin cancers include chemotherapy and radiation, often coupled with surgery.

If you have risk factors for skin cancer such as fair skin, advanced age, a history of sunburns or excessive tanning or indoor tanning, a family history of skin cancer, organ transplantation, or taking chronic immunosuppressive medications, then a regular yearly checkup with your dermatologist is recommended.

Early detection of skin cancer is important, but you can reduce your risk with a few simple steps. Here are some tips to stop skin cancer before it starts:

  • Avoid tanning or sunburns since it increases your cumulative ultraviolent light exposure
  • Apply a broad spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 to sun exposed areas daily
  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours when outdoors and after aquatic activities
  • Wear sun-protective clothing and wide brimmed hats as an additional barrier for the skin especially when reapplication of sunscreen is not feasible

Types of skin cancer

Skin cancer occurs when mutations form in the DNA of skin cells, causing them to grow out of control. Usually, the damage results from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which comes from the sun and artificial rays (tanning beds, sunlamps). Skin cancer most often appears in areas that are exposed to the sun, such as the face, head, neck, hands, lips, ears and scalp. However, the disease can also develop in other areas, such as scars, skin ulcers or in the genital region.

The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Non-melanoma skin cancers, which include basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the most common affect 1 in 5 Americans during their lifetime. There are also several very rare types of skin cancer that account for less than 1 percent of all cases, such as Merkel cell carcinoma, cutaneous (skin) lymphoma and various types of sarcomas.

Symptoms to look for

Each type of skin cancer is different, and has unique symptoms.

Basal cell carcinomas classically appear as a flesh-toned to pink shiny patch of skin or bump. You may see blood vessels or an indentation in the center of the bump. Other variants of basal cell carcinoma may look like a white-pink scar, patch of eczema, or pigmented bump. As the cancer develops, it may bleed easily, ooze or become crusty.

Squamous cell carcinomas may develop as a firm lump on the skin, and may be scaly or crusty on the surface, unlike the smooth and pearly appearance of a basal cell carcinoma. If a nodule doesn’t form, the cancer may develop as a reddish, scaly patch. Some squamous cell carcinomas known as keratoacanthomas can grow abruptly within a few weeks.

Melanomas appear as asymmetric moles and may present as a new spot on the skin or a changing pre-existing mole.

Follow the ABCDE rule for spotting melanoma:

  • Asymmetry: the mole that has an irregular shape or two different looking halves
  • Border: Irregular, blurred, rough or notched edges
  • Color: Most moles are an even color, such as brown, black, tan or pink. Look for changes in the shade or distribution of color throughout.
  • Diameter: Moles larger than ¼ inch (6 mm, the size of a pencil eraser) across may be suspicious, although some melanomas may be smaller than this.
  • Evolving: Change in appearance and behavior of an existing mole

Most moles are benign and will not need treatment. Take note of the above possible signs of skin cancer, and get to know your body. If you observe noticeable changes in your skin or see any of the above symptoms, call us at Adult and Pediatric Dermatology for an appointment 303-796-8200