More than one million people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year. Anyone can get skin cancer, though the risk is greater if your parent, sibling or child has had a melanoma. A change in a mole can indicate a serious problem. Your dermatologist should be seen if you notice that a mole becomes larger, changes color, is asymmetric, or develops an irregular border. Other warning signs include itching, crusting, pain, and bleeding. Extensive and potentially disfiguring surgery can often be prevented by prompt biopsy and surgical removal of moles that are changing.
There are two kinds of skin tumors – benign (non-cancerous) and malignant (cancerous). Most cancerous skin tumors fall into one of three types:
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. This type is rarely life threatening and does not spread. It can be inherited, but usually occurs in patients who have had repeated sun exposure. Patients that develop a Basal Cell cancer have a 60% chance of developing another one within five years.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous Cell Carcinoma is another common type of skin cancer that is rarely life threatening. It is most often found in people with fair complexions. This type may develop from an Actinic (Solar) Keratosis, which is a scaly, crusty bump on sun-damaged skin. They can appear as a red bump, or may seem like an ulcer or a sore that won’t heal. They can range in size from a few millimeters to a few centimeters in diameter.
Malignant Melanoma is the least common but most serious form of skin cancer. It usually appears as a dark brown or black mole with uneven borders and irregular color, with shades of black/blue, red, or white. Melanoma most commonly occurs on the upper backs of men and women, as well as the lower legs of women. It can also develop on the face and other areas of the body. This cancer can arise from a mole that has been present for many years. Outcome is best if treated early.
When detected in its earliest stages, skin cancer is highly curable. It is important to have your skin examined regularly by a dermatologist. Monthly self-skin cancer examinations are also recommended. Refer to the ABCDE’s of Skin Cancer when performing your self examination.
Skin cancer treatment options
Treatment for skin cancer varies according to the location, extent, aggressiveness of the cancer, and the patient’s general health. There are many treatment options available that include scraping and burning, freezing, lasers, radiation, routine excision, and Mohs surgery. Cancer cells must be completely removed or they can lead to regrowth and recurrence of the tumor. Our physicians can assist you in choosing the most appropriate treatment option.
Your risks of skin cancer can be reduced when you protect yourself from the sun, are aware of suspicious growths, and visit your dermatologist for regular check-ups.