Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States and involves abnormal growths of skin cells that can form anywhere on the body, but most frequently appear on skin that is exposed to the sun. One in five people will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Although most cases of skin cancer can be successfully treated, it is still important to keep skin safe and healthy and try to prevent this disease.
Everyday, skin cells die and new ones form to replace them through DNA-controlled processes. Skin cancer can form when this process does not work properly, due to damaged DNA which is often a result of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or tanning lamps. Other risk factors include fair skin, family history of melanoma, being over 40 years old, and regular sun exposure. Fortunately, skin cancer is almost always curable if detected and treated early.
The most common skin cancers are:
- Basal cell carcinoma - 80-85% of all skin cancers.
- Squamous cell carcinoma - 10% of all skin cancers.
- Melanoma - 5% of all skin cancers. Melanoma is a rare but very dangerous type of skin cancer. It is the leading cause of death from skin disease.
Signs and Symptoms
Skin cancer can often be identified as a new or changed growth on the skin that may often occur on the scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms, hands or legs. The appearance of the growth depends on the type of cancer, but can appear as:
- Pearly or waxy bump
- Flesh-colored or brown scar-like lesion
- Firm, red nodule
- Crusted, flat lesion
- Large brown spot with darker speckles
- Mole that changes shape or color
- Shiny, firm bumps
Skin cancers vary in shape, color, size and texture, so any new, changed or otherwise suspicious growths or rashes should be examined immediately by Dr. Pierre. Early intervention is essential to preventing the cancer from spreading. Regular full body screening is recommended as well. A biopsy is usually performed to accurately diagnose suspected cancerous growths.
Treatment for skin cancer depends on the type, size and location of the tumor. Most options remove the entire growth and are usually effective. Removal procedures are usually simple and require only a local anesthetic in an outpatient setting. Some of the treatment options for skin cancer include:
- Freezing - also known as cryosurgery, kills tissue by freezing them with liquid nitrogen
- Excision - the abnormal tissue, as well as some surrounding healthy tissue, is cut out of the skin
- Laser therapy - destroys cancerous growths with little damage to surrounding tissue and it may have a few side effects
- Mohs surgery - removes larger skin growths layer by layer until no abnormal cells remain to prevent damage to healthy skin
- Chemotherapy - uses drugs to kill cancer, it may be applied through creams or lotions for superficial tumors.