More than 2 million cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed this year, and that’s just in the United States. Finding out that you have skin cancer can be scary, but the experienced doctors at Riverchase Dermatology are board certified by the American Board of Dermatology so you’ll receive state-of-the-art care. Since 2000, our skin cancer physicians have performed the highly successful Mohs Micrographic Surgery and other effective therapies with compassionate care focused solely on the wellbeing of our patients.
Even the same type of skin cancer can look very different from person to person. This makes it hard to look at a picture and tell if you have skin cancer. The best way to tell if you have skin cancer is to see a dermatologist. You should see a dermatologist right away for a skin cancer check if you see anything on your skin that lasts for 2 weeks or longer and is growing, changing shape, bleeding or itching.
There are several types, each named for the skin cell from which they originate. Most skin cancers, however, fall into one of these three groups:
Basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer, makes up 80-85% of skin cancer occurrence. Slow growing and highly curable, basal cell is often found on the face, ears, arms and other sun-exposed areas. You may find a flesh-toned to reddish spot that looks like a translucent bump or ulcerated sore. It can also present as a pimple that doesn’t clear, a sore that bleeds, heals and returns or a scar that feels waxy. It can also be a group of slow-growing, shiny pink or red growths that look like sores and may be scaly or bleed.
Squamous cell carcinoma begins in the upper layers of skin (epidermis), but can be fast growing and spread into other organs. The cancer presents itself as a red bump or non-healing sore and can itch and bleed, heal and return. Another sign is a thick scaly patch on the lip. About 10% of reported skin cancer is this type.
Melanoma represents 5% of skin cancers. It is the most serious, aggressive form and can be fatal, so it’s important to catch melanoma early for optimal cure probability. Melanoma symptoms include a red to black patch or bump and may appear as a new spot, an existing mole or a mole that changes shape or color. It may look scaly, ooze or bleed. It can also present as a bruise on the foot that does not heal or a black/brown streak underneath a fingernail or toenail.
Less common types of skin cancer include cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL) and Merkel cell carcinoma.
Precancerous Skin Lesions
Seemingly harmless changes to your skin can become cancerous over time, so be vigilant about getting new or changing spots checked by your doctor. The most well known of these precancerous lesions appear as scaly patches called actinic keratosis (AKs) and are commonly found where skin has been sun-exposed most: the head, neck or hands. Actinic keratosis can develop into squamous cell carcinoma, so don’t put off scheduling your dermatology checkup.
What Causes It?
More than 90% of all skin cancer is caused by overexposure to the sun. (Family history also plays a role in a small percentage of skin cancers, especially melanomas.) Sunlight lets off ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which damages skin cells over time, causing them to replicate abnormally. This growing collection of abnormal cells is the basis for skin cancer.
To combat this, your body produces melanin, which gives skin its tan to brown color and can block the damaging effects of UV radiation. The darker the skin, the better protected it is from UV radiation. That’s why a tan develops. But, a tan will form only after the skin has already been damaged, and it provides very little additional protection, even for those with very dark skin. And, those with fair skin have almost no melanin to protect them.
As part of a dermatological exam, your doctor will check your skin for bumps or spots that are unusual in color, size, shape or texture. If an abnormality is detected, a small skin sample is removed for lab testing. This biopsy is required to provide an accurate diagnosis.
The right treatment plan depends on many factors, including skin cancer type (basal cell, squamous cell, melanoma, etc.), size (smaller or larger mass), how far it has spread, location on the body, number of cancerous spots, and family and personal histories.
Once a diagnosis has been made, Riverchase Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery offers advanced treatment options for the treatment of skin cancer.
Mohs Micrographic Surgery is an advanced procedure for skin cancer that offers the highest potential for cure with about a 99% success rate. It is performed under local anesthesia in the doctor’s office. Skin cancers can be deceptively small on the surface of the skin, and to remove it completely requires microscopic examination of the cells. The Mohs surgeon maps out the cancerous area, excises small portions of tissue and immediately examines each one under a microscope. This process is repeated until no cancerous tissue is left. The surgeon then reconstructs the wound by using a variety of repair techniques. This type of pin-pointed accuracy minimizes the chance of cancer regrowth, preserves most healthy skin cells and lessens the potential for scarring. To learn more about this procedure please visit the American College of Mohs Micrographic Surgery and Cutaneous Oncology (ACMS) website.
Skin Cancer Procedures
Additional procedures to Mohs surgery are provided by Riverchase Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery skin cancer specialists. These, along with others, include:
Cryotherapy. “Freezing” away skin cancer lesion with the use of liquid nitrogen. The doctor may prescribe a topical medication such as imiquimod in conjunction with this treatment.
Curettage-electrodesiccation. Scraping off the tumor with a sharp-edged curette and then cauterizing the area with heat, which further removes the tumor and prevents excessive bleeding.
Excision. Traditional surgical procedure to extract the tumor along with surrounding skin tissue to ensure complete removal of the cancer, then closing the wound and control bleeding with the use of stitches.
Topical medications may also be prescribed by your doctor to treat precancerous lesions or skin cancer.
If it is caught early and properly treated, skin cancer can be cured. Even melanoma, which can be deadly, has a cure rate of almost 100 percent when treated early.