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Skin Cancer Facts

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States and ranks as the sixth most common cause of death among those who have cancer. Skin cancer can take on a number of forms, some of which are more dangerous than others.

The most serious form of skin cancer is what is known as melanoma and is associated with moles. Fortunately, you are least likely to develop melanoma as it is the rarest, but the frequency of its diagnosis has been increasing across the country.

Common Types of Skin Cancer

There are three large groupings of skin cancer types which can affect your body and will necessitate different treatment options:

– Basal Cell Carcinoma: If you have this kind of skin cancer, also known as BCC or “rodent ulcer,” you can expect to see small reddish-pink dots or lumps on your face (nodular BCC and morphoeic BCC) or discolored lesions that can occur anywhere on your body (pigmented BCC). This type of skin cancer is rarely life-threatening, but needs to be treated nonetheless.

– Squamous Cell Carcinoma: SCC, as it is more commonly known, is created from the squamous cells on your body – flat cells that produce keratin and make up your skin, hair and nails. If you have invasive SCC, you will likely see slow-growing lumps on your body that are scaly and tender, often around the face, on the forearms and on the lower legs.

– Melanoma: This type of skin cancer appears in the color-producing cells in your skin (melanocytes), and may be present as new and odd-looking mole on your skin or may take hold as part of an existing mole. If you notice that you have a mole that is not symmetrical, does not have sharply defined edges, is multiple colors, is of a large size or is rapidly changing, you should have it examined as a possible source of skin cancer.

Risk Factors for Skin Cancer

While skin cancer types can manifest differently, they do share a number of risk factors that you should be aware of. All three types of skin cancer have higher rates of incidence among those who are fair-skinned. Unprotected exposure to sunlight and UV radiation is almost always a factor in the development of one of these cancers. A history of severe sunburns or a compromised immune system (due to HIV or recent transplant surgery) can put you at a greater risk for skin cancer.

Treating Skin Cancer

There are a number of treatment options for skin cancer beginning with excision, in which the entire thickness of your skin at the point of the cancer will be removed. If your lesion is small and has not metastasized (spread to other parts of the body), this will often be enough. Other options include cryotherapy (freezing), imiquimod cream (an immune system reactant that causes inflammation and destruction of cancerous cells) and in the case of melanoma, special skin surgery called Mohs Surgery. Metastasized melanoma requires care by an oncologist.

“Pre-cancerous” growths (Actinic Keratoses) can often be eliminated by PhotoDynamic Therapy or Laser (the Fraxel Dual Laser is FDA approved for the treatment of Actinic Keratosis). Not all AK’s become cancerous but it is estimated that 20% of untreated AKs go on to become cancers. However, anyone who develops non melanoma BCC or SCC skin cancer will have had actinic keratosis.

All suspicious lesions are biopsied.  If a skin cancer (BCC or SCC) occurs on the head, neck, or hands, you will be referred to a Mohs surgeon.  Otherwise excisions can be managed in our office.

Skin Cancer Facts
Resources and Imagery Links

Skin Cancer Slideshow