More than one million Americans are affected by skin cancer every year, and one out of every seven people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime. Fortunately, 90 percent of all skin cancers can be completely cured if they are caught and treated early, so it is important to recognize the warning signs.There are three main skin cancer types: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma. Knowing more about these frequently occurring skin cancer types can help you detect the disease as soon as possible.
- Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most common of the three main forms of skin cancer, but is also the least serious. It typically appears as a benign-looking lesion, similar to a pimple or a smooth bump with raised or shiny edges. Crusting and intermittent bleeding can occur as the disease progresses.
- Squamous Cell Skin Cancer is more serious than basal cell carcinoma because it is more aggressive and can subsequently spread to lymph nodes as well as vital organs. Squamous cell skin cancer is usually preceded by a pre-malignant lesion referred to as an actinic or solar keratosis. This lesion typically looks like a rough, red patch that is slightly raised and can itch, bleed, or flake.
- Malignant Melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer. Although it is the most dangerous, it is also the least common. Early signs of this form of the disease include changes in a pre-existing mole, the formation of a new mole, or the appearance of a multi-colored or brown-black patch on the skin where one did not exist before.
The severity of each individual case of skin cancer directly correlates to how aggressive the tumor is, including both local growth as well as the potential for metastasis. Cancer metastases can eventually destroy vital organs as the malignant cells spread in the lymph nodes or blood stream and establish malignant colonies elsewhere in the body.
About the Procedure:
- Length: 15 minutes to 1 hours
- Anesthesia: Local outpatient, usually in-office surgery/procedure
- Side Effects: Swelling, bruising, prominent scarring (requiring further surgery)
- Risk: Bleeding, infection, poor healing (ALL RARE)
- Recovery: Cold pack for 24-48 hours. Wound care for 5 days. Full activity in less than one week.
- Duration of Results: Usually permanent, unless recurrence.
- Office Visits: First 5-7 days, or 6 weeks with Steri Strips. Second visit 6 weeks to 3 months. Estimated 3 visits total.
- Bandages Worn: 24 to 48 hours.
- Pain Meds: Ibuprofen.
Skin Cancer Symptoms and Risks
Those at a high-risk for developing skin cancer are people of Celtic origin that have fair skin, freckles, red or blonde hair, and light colored eyes. Other individuals may be predisposed to skin cancer because of medical illnesses such as nevus sebaceous, dysplastic nevus syndrome, xeroderma pigmentosa, or basal cell nevus syndrome. Especially with melanoma, heredity can also play a major role in the likeliness of being diagnosed with skin cancer. Ninety percent of skin cancer cases are related to sun exposure, which makes limiting time spent in the sun the most controllable factor to reduce the risk of the disease. Skin cancer can cause the following symptoms:
- A skin sore that does not heal,
- heals intermittently, or re-opens
- A dry, scaly, red patch
- A raised, waxy, or shiny bump
- A wart or mole that changes in size, color, surface characteristics, elevation, or sensation (especially itching)
Skin Cancer Prevention and Detection
Ideally, the best way to prevent skin cancer is by eliminating the common causative factors such as sun exposure. Wearing sunscreen, avoiding tanning beds, and not allowing your skin to develop a sunburn are a few simple steps to decrease your risk of skin cancer. Although most skin cancer is not deadly, especially when caught early, regular exams are important for early detection. If not noticed until advanced stages, skin cancer can cause severe disfigurement to cure the disease, so regular self-exams are key.
Skin Cancer Treatment
Once diagnosed, skin cancers can be treated by a variety of common methods.
- Basal cell skin cancers are generally treated by electrodesicccation and curettage, cryotherapy, radiation therapy, or complete excision.
- Squamous Cell Cancers are treated by excision.
- Melanomas are treated by wide excision, lymph node dissection when indicated, and possibly chemotherapy and immunotherapy for more advanced cases.
- Moh’s Micrographic Surgery is a highly specialized skin cancer removal procedure commonly used to treat recurring tumors or tumors with high recurrence rates that are located in challenging locations.
- Alternative and more experimental methods to treat or help prevent skin cancer range from low dose retinoids to dietary supplementation of high-dose beta-carotene as well as vitamins C and E. In some advanced cases of malignant melanoma, different stimulants to the immune system may also be an option.
In the United States, there are approximately 23,000 new cases of malignant melanoma diagnosed each year. The increase in cases of malignant melanoma has become an epidemic. In 1930, the lifetime risk of developing malignant melanoma for Caucasian Americans was 1:1500. That figure has jumped to 1:150 today. According to a recent Harvard Medical School study, even one serious sunburn during childhood can make a person twice as likely to develop the disease later in life. The theory behind this research is that the serious burn leads to unstable moles because it can alter the genetic material in pigment cells.
If you have noticed a change in a pre-existing mole, a new mole, or a new brown-black or multi-colored patch on the skin, it could be a sign of malignant melanoma. These changes to the skin are referred to as the ABCDE’s of melanoma.
- A — Asymmetry: If you drew a line down the center of the mole, the two halves would not match.
- B — Border: It is common for malignant melanomas to have uneven edges rather than smooth borders.
- C — Color: Moles that are not malignant usually are only one color. Malignant melanomas can have two or more colors, which are generally black and brown but could be blue and white.
- D — Diameter: Typically, melanomas are larger than regular moles, which are approximately 6 millimeters or less. This is about the size of a pencil eraser.
- E — Evolution: Be on the lookout for a change in size, shape, or color of a mole in addition to other symptoms such as bleeding, itching, or tenderness.
Skin Cancer Treatment Cost
Depending on each individual patient and the procedure used, skin cancer treatment cost can vary from about $500 to $1,000, which may be covered by insurance.
Skin Cancer Post-Operative Care
As part of the surgical recovery process, some mandatory down time is needed for proper healing. Over a period of six to eight weeks, the bruise and tissue fluid in the wound are replaced by scar or fibrous tissue that is even spaner. To make sure that the area healing is able to maintain tissue integrity, sutures are used to hold the wound together.
It is recommended that you return to normal daily living activities, massage, movement, and stretching for optimal healing. After those initial few weeks of high energy healing, the wound will reach a maturation phase. During this time, it will become spaner, thinner, and less red. The maturation phase of the scar tissue can happen over the course of six to twelve months, and changes will be subtler.
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