When people think of cancer, they often forget that this dread disease also affects our largest organ, the skin. American doctors diagnose over 3.5 million cases of skin cancer every year. In total, one in five Americans suffers from skin cancer during their lifetimes. As with other cancers, early detection greatly increases the chances of a positive treatment outcome. Pierre Skin Care Institute in Thousand Oaks, California provides skin cancer treatments that attack the sickness at its source.
The Centers for Disease Control ranks skin cancer as the most prevalent cancer in the United States. Though curable, skin cancer still kills two people per hour across the United States. As scary as that statistic sounds, most skin cancers have a 99% cure rate if treatment starts promptly. Many people have questions about skin cancer, such as its signs, symptoms and causes. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about skin cancer.
What Are Common Skin Cancer Treatments?
Treatment options vary based on the type of skin cancer. There are also different treatment methods for precancerous lesions, known as actinic keratoses.
Some small skin cancers require nothing more than the removal of the growth, that occurs during the initial skin biopsy. For larger and more serious cases, common skin cancer treatments include the following:
Actinic keratoses and small, early cancers can often be defeated through freezing with liquid nitrogen. The cancerous tissue dies and falls off.
The doctor surgically removes the cancerous tissue and often some normal skin around the tumor.
Doctors perform Mohs surgery when treating difficult, recurrent or large skin cancers. Mohs surgery is also helpful when performing procedures on areas where skin must be conserved, such as the nose. To perform the surgery, the doctor removes the skin layer by layer, examining each level under a microscope for abnormal cells. The procedure is complete when the doctor reaches a layer that has no cancerous cells.
Curettage and Electrodesiccation
First the doctor removes most of the growth, after which he or she scrapes away cancer cells with a circular blade. Any remaining cells are destroyed with an electric needle.
Radiation therapy destroys cancer cells with high-powered energy beams. This therapy is generally used when surgery can’t completely eradicate the cancer.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer. When cancers remain limited to the skin’s top layer, anti-cancer creams and lotions are often effective. After cancer spreads to other body parts, systemic chemotherapy becomes necessary.
This treatment utilizes a combination of drugs and laser light to destroy cancer cells that are vulnerable to light.
Biological therapy recruits the body’s immune system to fight the cancer.
What Exactly Is Skin Cancer?
The Mayo Clinic defines skin cancer as the abnormal growth of skin cells. These dangerous growths most often develop because of sun exposure. However, contrary to popular belief, skin cancer also occurs on parts of the body that receive no sun exposure. To reduce the risk of skin cancer, limit exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. In addition, regularly check skin for changes which may indicate the need for skin cancer treatments.
What Are the differences Between the Major Types of Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer consists of three major types: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cells produce new skin cells as old ones die off. When these cells become cancerous, a somewhat transparent bump often appears on the skin, though other symptoms may be present. This type of cancer generally appears on areas that have exposure to the sun, such as the face or neck. Scientists believe that basal cell carcinomas are caused by long-term UV radiation exposure. Using sunscreen year-round and avoiding excessive sun exposure are the best defense.
The disease results from DNA mutations in the basal cells. Because basal cells produce new skin, they must do so at a pace that allows old skin cells to rise to the surface and be sloughed off. The mutation causes the basal cells to grow hyperactively. The cells actually continue to grow after they should have died. These cancerous cells eventually form a tumor that presents as a lesion on the skin.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cells make up the middle and outer layers of the skin. Cancer of these cells are usually not fatal, but severe complications can result. For example, squamous cell carcinomas can spread to other parts of the body and grow into large masses. Though UV radiation exposure is a recognized cause, squamous cell carcinoma can occur anywhere in the body, even areas that are protected from sunlight.
Squamous cell carcinoma occurs because the cells of the middle and outer skin layers develop a DNA mutation. As with basal cell carcinoma, the mutation causes the cells to grow in overdrive and survive long after their natural life should have terminated. The eventual result is a cancerous tumor that must be medically treated.
Skin cancer experts label melanoma as the most serious type of skin cancer. This form of cancer affects melanocytes, which produce melanin, or the pigment that gives skin its color. Melanoma can also form in the eyes and, in rare cases, internal organs. Scientists have yet to determine the exact cause of melanoma but believe UV radiation exposure is one factor. Most melanoma cases involve areas of the body that receive regular sun exposure, such as the back, legs and face.
Melanoma results from mutations in the melanocytes. Under normal processes, healthy newborn cells push older cells to the surface of the skin, where they fall off the skin. When the melanocytes suffer damage to their DNA, too many new cells grow, in time creating a mass of cancerous cells. Scientists have yet to isolate the exact type of DNA damage that leads to melanoma, but they believe a combination of genetic and environmental factors are to blame.
What Are the Symptoms of the Main Skin Cancer Types?
Each of the three main types of skin cancer has differing sets of symptoms and risk factors.
Basal Cell Carcinoma Symptoms
Since this type of cancer usually forms on skin that is exposed to sunlight regularly, signs of the disease often appear on the head or neck, though in rarer cases they can manifest themselves in areas that receive no sun exposure. Typical symptoms include unexplained alterations to the skin, such as a growth or sore that stubbornly refuses to heal. These lesions often appear pearly white, skin-colored or as a translucent pink bump. Tiny blood vessels may be visible. The lesions may appear on the face or ears and can bleed or scab.
Other symptoms include brown, black, blue or dark-spotted lesions that are slightly raised and surrounded by a translucent border. When symptoms manifest themselves on the back or chest, they often appear as flat, scaly, reddish patches with raised edges. These patches may grow very large over time. The least common basal cell carcinoma symptoms are white, waxy lesions without a clear border.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
This carcinoma most often attacks sun-exposed skin, including the scalp, backs of hands, ears, and lips. However, it can also present in unexpected areas, including inside the mouth, the buttocks, the feet, and even the genitals. Signs and symptoms include the following:
- Firm, red nodules
- Flat sores with scaly crusts
- New sores formed over old scars
- Rough, scaly patches on the lips (often leading to open sores)
- Red and sore spots inside the mouth
- Red, raised patches or wart-like growths on the anus or genitals
Melanoma symptoms often begin with a visible change in an existing mole. They may also manifest as new pigmentation or an unusual skin growth. A normal mole has a uniform color, including tan, brown or black, and a distinct border separates the mole from regular skin. Normal moles are also oval or rounded. They usually have a circumference of under 1/4 inch, which is about the size of a pencil eraser. The average person has between 10 and 45 moles. Inspecting moles is important. The appearance of unusual moles or changes in existing moles may indicate melanoma.
To remember how to identify moles that may indicate melanoma, remember to use the acronym ABCDE:
A stands for asymmetrical. Check for moles with odd shapes. For example, a mole with asymmetrical halves needs to be examined by a doctor.
B stands border. Check for moles with notched or scalloped borders.
C stands for color. Check moles for multiple colors or uneven color distributions.
D stands for diameter. Moles over 1/4 inch in diameter may indicate melanoma.
E stands for evolving. Moles that grow, change appearance or develop symptoms, such as itchiness or bleeding, are potentially cancerous.
Where to Find Them
Many melanomas develop in areas that have little or no sun exposure, such as toes, palms, the scalp and even the genitals. Physicians often refer to these as hidden melanomas because they happen in areas most people don’t expect. Hidden melanomas include under the nail acral-lentiginous melanoma, which is a rare form that occurs under fingernails or toenails.
Melanomas also occur in the mouth, digestive system and urinary tract. They can also occur in the mucous membranes which line the nose, mouth and esophagus. Eye Melanoma, which causes vision changes, affects the layer beneath the white of the eye.
Physicians have identified many factors that may increase melanoma risk, including the following:
- Fair skin
- Previous sunburns
- Too much UV light exposure
- Living in equatorial regions or at a higher elevation
- Having a large number of moles
- Unusual moles
- Family history of melanoma
- Compromised immune systems
Can You Prevent Skin Cancer?
No one can completely safeguard themselves against the threat of skin cancer. However, healthcare professionals recommend commonsense measures that can greatly reduce the chances of becoming a victim, including the following:
- Avoid the midday sun, even in winter
- Wear sunscreen year-round (you absorb UV radiation even in cold weather)
- Wear sunscreen on cloudy days (UV radiation goes through the cloud layer)
- Choose sunscreen with SPF of at least 30
- Don protective clothing (sunscreen can’t protect against all radiation)
- Protect against eye damage and cancer by wearing sunglasses
- Limit tanning lamps and beds; they increase cancer risk
- Notice changes in your skin through regular examinations
Skin Cancer Treatments Are Most Effective When Started Early
One of every five Americans will experience skin cancer during his or her lifetime. Many types of skin cancer exist, with melanoma being the most prevalent and dangerous. To prevent skin cancer, it’s important to remain vigilant. Always wear sunscreen, avoid excessive UV exposure and notice changes to your skin. If you notice lesions, discolorations, strange-looking moles or other skin abnormalities, contact a physician right away.
Pierre Skin Care Institute in Thousand Oaks, California understands the challenges of avoiding skin cancer risk when you live an active lifestyle in the Golden State. If you need an evaluation of skin damage or potential skin cancer symptoms, contact Pierre Skin Care Institute of Thousand Oaks, CA, serving Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village, Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Camarillo, Ventura, Oxnard, Moorpark and Simi Valley.