What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer is the most prevalent of all cancers. Estimates vary on its occurrence, but it is estimated that approximately 500,000 Americans develop skin cancer every year.
What are the causes?
The principal cause of skin cancer is almost universally accepted by medical experts to be overexposure to sunlight. Other factors may include: history or medical or industrial radiation, scarring from severe burns, occupational exposure to compounds such as arsenic, and genetic factors.
Main types of skin cancer
Basal cell carcinoma
This is by far the most common form of skin cancer. It usually appears as a pink or red new or growing bump in sun-exposed areas such as the face, neck, and chest. It can look like a scab or sore and may bleed easily.
If untreated, the cancer will continue to grow in size, can begin to bleed, scab and not heal. Although this type of cancer does not typically metastasize (spread to other parts of the body), it can grow quite large, often larger than what it appears to be on the surface.
Squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common skin cancer and is also most often cause by sun exposure. It may appear as a scab, growing bump or as red, scaly non-healing patches. Unlike basal cell carcinoma, SCC has a small potential to metastasize and spread to other parts of the body if ignored and not treated.
Luckily, the cure rate for both basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma can be close to 100 percent, when treated properly and in a timely manner. DermPhysicians of New England are specially trained to diagnose and treat skin cancers of all types. Our surgeons are fellowship-trained to treat skin cancer, including in difficult areas of the body.
Malignant melanoma is a less common, but potentially more dangerous type of skin cancer. Our yearly, full-body skin exams are geared to detect melanomas early.
Melanoma has the potential to metastasize and be life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated early. Early detection and treatment can lead to excellent prognosis. Melanoma may appear as a new spot or within an existing mole. For that reason, it is important that we are familiar with the location and appearance of the moles on our bodies so that new spots and changes can be noticed.
Excessive sun exposure, as with the other skin cancers, is the most common cause of melanoma, especially among light-skinned individuals. A history of tanning bed or salon use significantly increases a person’s risk for melanoma. Atypical moles, which may run in families, can also serve as markers and help to identify people as being at a higher risk for developing melanoma there or elsewhere in the skin.
The ABCDs of melanoma – signs to look for
Asymmetry – one half doesn’t match the other half.
Border irregularity – the edges are ragged, notched, or blurred.
Color – the pigmentation is not uniform. Shades of tan, brown, and black are present.
Diameter greater than six millimeters – about the size of a pencil eraser. Any change in the size of a mole should be evaluated.
Some additional warning signs can include: moles or new growths that scab or bleed, or new symptoms such as pain or itching.
Melanoma, similar to the less aggressive basal cell and squamous cell cancers, has a much higher cure rate when detected early.
Prevention is a matter of guarding the skin against the known causes. Since the sun is typically the main culprit, the most effective preventive method is sun avoidance. Limit the exposure of the skin to harmful rays by covering up and using sunscreens with at least a 15 SPF rating.
If any growth, mole, sore or discoloration appears suddenly or begins to change, please make an appointment with DermPhysicians of New England as soon as possible.
Fortunately, skin cancers are relatively easy to detect and most can be cured. Even malignant melanoma, if caught in its early stages, has very high cure rates. Self-exams and yearly full body in-office exams by a dermatologist can be life-saving.
Treating skin cancer
Early detection is key. Make a routine of inspecting your body for any skin changes — particularly anything resembling the illustrations above.
If any growth, mole, sore, or discoloration appears suddenly or begins to change, please call us for an appointment. It is very important to identify skin cancers early so they can be treated appropriately.
Schedule an appointment
To schedule an appointment with DermPhysicians of New England, request an appointment online or give us a call at (781) 272-7022. We provide Mohs micrographic surgery to treat cancer, skin exams and biopsies as proactive services to help you stay ahead of skin cancer.