Skin cancer is the growth of abnormal cells on your skin. If caught early, and treated by our collaborative team of specialists, skin cancer can be very curable. The three most common kinds of skin cancer are:
- Basal cell carcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma
The first sign of skin cancer is a change in the appearance of your skin. How your skin changes depends on the type of cancer:
Basal Cell Carcinoma:
- Slowly expanding, painless growth
- Bleeding scab or sore that heals and recurs
- Flat, firm, pale area
- Small, raised, pink, red or pearly areas that may bleed easily
- Large oozing, crusted area
Squamous Cell Carcinoma:
- Growing lump with rough, scaly or crusted surfaces
- Slow-growing flat, reddish patch in the skin
- Recurrent, non-healing ulceration or bleeding
- Mole that is asymmetrical or uneven shape
- Mole with uneven border or edges
- Mole with color variation or uneven color
- Mole that is larger than the eraser of a pencil
- Mole that changes in size, shape, color or texture
A risk factor is anything that increases your chances of developing skin cancer. While skin cancer can develop in anyone, it is more likely to develop in people with:
- Fair skin that freckles easily
- Red or blonde hair
- Light-colored eyes
Other factors that may increase the chance of skin cancer include:
- Personal history of skin cancer
- Exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun or a tanning bed
- Excessive sun exposure without protective clothing or sunscreen
- Skin damage from burns or infections
- Exposure to arsenic, industrial tar, coal, paraffin and certain types of oil
- Radiation therapy
- Light treatments for psoriasis, especially psoralen ultraviolet A (PUVA)
- Suppressed immune system from illness or medications
- Certain genetic diseases, such as basal cell nevus syndrome or xeroderma pigmentosum
To help reduce your risk of skin cancer:
- Avoid spending too much time in the sun.
- Avoid exposing your skin to the sun between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM standard time, or 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM daylight saving time.
- Protect your skin from the sun with clothing. Wear a shirt, sunglasses and a hat with a broad brim.
- Use broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or more on skin that will be exposed to the sun.
- Use a protective lip balm.
- Wear sunglasses with 99% or 100% UV absorption to protect your eyes.
- Do not use sun lamps or tanning booths.
To determine whether you have skin cancer or not, your doctor will start by asking about your symptoms, medical history and family history, as well as perform a physical examination. If skin cancer is suspected, your doctor will take a biopsy to be examined for cancer cells. Your doctor may also check your lymph nodes for cancer if the growth is large. Cancer in the lymph nodes means the cancer may have spread, and additional testing will be required.
If caught early, skin cancer can be very treatable. How your cancer is treated will depend on your unique situation. Based on the type and size of your cancer as well as your overall health, our team will develop a personalized treatment plan that makes sense for you. Our treatment options include:
Many skin cancers can be surgically removed from the skin. In some cases, skin cancer can be completely removed during biopsy. If the cancer is completely removed, no further treatment is needed. Surgical techniques include:
Once the skin has been cleaned and numbed with anesthesia, the doctor will use a surgical knife to remove the cancer. After the cancer has been removed, the doctor will close the wound using stitches and/or clean stickers, and will cover the site with a bandage. Most procedures are completed within 20 minutes.
Curettage and Electrodesiccation
In this procedure, the cancer is scooped out with a sharp, spoon-shaped instrument that uses a mild electric current to stop bleeding. The current also kills any cancer cells that may have been left around the edge of the wound. This technique is used for small skin cancers that are not deep.
Mohs surgery shaves off thin layers of skin. The doctor will continue until the removed layers show no signs of cancer. The goal is to remove as little healthy tissue as possible while ensuring the cancer’s complete removal. This method is used to remove:
- Large tumors
- Tumors in hard-to-treat places
- Tumors of undetermined shape and depth
- Cancers that have recurred
Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze and kill abnormal cells. After the area thaws, the dead tissue falls off. More than one freezing may be required to eliminate the cancer entirely. This procedure is used to treat precancerous skin conditions (actinic keratoses) and certain small or superficial skin cancers.
Laser therapy uses a narrow beam of light to remove and destroy cancer cells. This method is sometimes used for cancers in the outer layer of skin.
Radiation therapy uses radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.
Topical chemotherapy is the use of medications to kill cancer cells. The medication can be creams or lotions. This method is successful in treating precancerous conditions and cancers limited to the outer layer of the skin.
Immunotherapy uses medications that help your immune system fight the cancer.