Skin cancer

What it is:

Skin cancer is an abnormal growth of skin cells and can be divided into two categories: melanoma and non-melanoma. Skin cancer most often develops on the areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun. Skin cancer affects people of all colors and races. Regular and thorough application of sunscreen with a minimum SPF 30 is the most effective method of preventing the development of skin cancer.

Skin cancer can manifest in a variety of ways: atypical moles, actinic keratosis, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.  

If caught early, skin cancer can be treated relatively easily. However, skin cancer can be dangerous, and in some cases, fatal.

Use the ABCDE’s to evaluate your skin:

A-asymmetry, meaning one half doesn’t look like the other

B-border irregularity, a jagged or scalloped edge

C-color, either multiple colors in one lesion or one very dark color

D-diameter, anything greater than 6mm or the size of a pencil eraser

E-evolution, some sort of change

Watch for anything suspicious including lesions that are new, grow or change rapidly, bleed easily, or do not heal. Keep an eye out for any new or changing moles. If you have a mole or skin lesion that looks suspicious, call us to make an appointment today. 

Treatment:

Every occurrence of skin cancer is different, and may require different kinds of treatments. Depending on the type, skin cancer can be treated by various methods including:

Surgery:
Surgery options for skin cancer lesions include

  • Excision: the tumor is cut from the skin, along with some of the normal skin around it.
  • Shave excision: the abnormal area is shaved off the surface of the skin with a small blade.
  • Curettage and electrodesiccation: the tumor is cut form the skin with a curette (a sharp, spoon-shaped tool). A needle-shaped electrode is used to treat the area with an electric current to stop the bleeding and destroy the remaining cancer cells at the edge of the wound. The process may be repeated one to three times during the surgery to ensure all of the cancer is removed. 
  • Cryosurgery: a treatment that freezes and destroys abnormal tissue. 
  • Laser surgery: a procedure that uses a narrow beam of intense light like a knife to make bloodless cuts in tissue or to remove a surface lesion, like a tumor. 
  • Dermabrasion: removal of the top layer of skin using a rotating wheel or small particles to rub away skin cells. 
  • Radiation: a cancer treatment using high energy x-rays and other types of radiation to kill cancer cells, or at least prevent them from growing. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance and is placed directly into or near the cancer. The way radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of cancer being treated. 

Chemotherapy:
A cancer treatment using drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells. It can be taken orally or injected into a vein or muscle. The drugs enter the bloodstream and reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). 

Chemotherapy for non-melanoma skin cancers and actinic keratosis is usually topical (applied to the skin as a cream or lotion). The way chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of cancer being treated. 

Photodynamic therapy:
Uses a drug and blue light to kill cancer cells. The drug is not active until it is exposed to light and injected into the patient. This therapy causes little damage to healthy tissue. 

Biologic therapy:
Uses your own immune system to fight cancer. Substances made by the body or in a lab can boost, direct, or restore the body’s natural defenses against cancer. This kind of treatment is also called biotherapy or immunotherapy. Interferon and imiquidmod are frequently used to treat skin cancer. 

Clinical trials:
Taking part in a clinical trial may be a good treatment choice for some patients. Clinical trials are performed to test new treatments to see if they are safe and effective. Talk to your doctor if you are willing to take part in a clinical trial.