Skin cancer refers to the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. This can occur anywhere on the body but is most likely to occur on sun exposed areas. Proper sun protection and sun avoidance can help prevent many skin cancers.
Who gets skin cancer?
One in five people will develop skin cancer in their life time according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Skin cancer is usually linked with sun exposure. Therefore, those with a history of excessive sun exposure, sunburns or tanning are at a higher risk.
What are the different types of skin cancers?
There are two different types of pre-skin cancers. If left untreated, these lesions have the potential to turn into skin cancer:
Dysplastic Nevi: Moles or nevi are very common and a person can get new ones through early adulthood. All of these moles fall on a spectrum from being normal (no or minimal chance of turning in to a skin cancer) to melanoma (see description below). On that spectrum are mild, moderate, and severely dysplastic nevi which can be thought of as pre-cancerous moles or a marker of an increased risk for melanoma. Since early detection is paramount in detecting melanoma, it is important to have regular skin checks with your provider as well as perform frequent self skin checks to monitor for any changes in your moles.
Actinic Keratoses (pre-cancerous lesion): Persistent rough, scaly spots that appear on sun exposed areas due to years of sun exposure. A small percentage of these lesions left untreated can develop into skin cancer, especially squamous cell carcinoma.
There are three common types of skin cancers:
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC): This is the most common of all skin cancers. It tends to be slow growing and frequently appears as a pinkish, translucent, pearly bump or red, scaly patch that does not heal on its own, bleeds easily or increases in size.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC): This cancer usually grows faster than a BCC and can rarely spread locally. It resembles a new wart-like growth that may be painful, increasing in size or bleeding easily.
Malignant Melanoma: While this is the least common skin cancer, it is the most dangerous due to its ability to spread. If detected early, melanoma can be completely cured. If left untreated, melanoma can spread to the lymph nodes, lungs, liver and brain.
How are skin cancers treated?
Fortunately, skin cancer is almost always curable with minimally invasive treatments as long as it is detected early. For this reason, we recommend regular Mole and Skin Cancer Screenings to monitor any concerning lesions. Once a skin cancer is identified, there are multiple treatment options that your physician will discuss with you.
Topical treatments: If a non-melanoma skin cancer is detected early and is superficial, there are a number of topical chemotherapy options that can be used. These creams, such as Imiquimod or 5-Fluorouracil, target and destroy the skin cancer cells and allow healthy skin to grow in its place.
Electrodessication and Curettage (ED&C) : This treatment is preferred for non-melanoma skin cancers that are superficial or the patient prefers not to have stitches.
Surgical Removal: This treatment usually requires stitches with limitation in exercise until the stitches are removed.
Mohs Micrographic Surgery: This procedure may be recommended as a tissue-sparing surgery often for skin cancers on the face or ears. This procedure allows the surgeon to take the smallest amount of skin and using frozen sections can check specimens for cancer while the patient waits in the office. This leads to the smallest scar possible as well as precise removal of the cancer to minimize the risk of recurrence.