As a leading dermatology practice in Coral Gables, Florida, we hold a strong commitment to education; our own and that of our patients. On our end, our physicians remain abreast of the most recent developments in aesthetic and clinical dermatology. We also dedicate time to educating our patients about common skin conditions, including skin cancer. With skin cancer one of the most persistent epidemics in our country today, accounting for half of all cancer diagnoses, we find it essential that our patients know how to identify this disease and how we can help them lower their risk of developing skin cancer. Furthermore, we provide comprehensive skin cancer screenings and services to ensure the utmost attention is given to the long-term health of the skin.
What Is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is the leading form of cancer diagnosed today. This disease can develop in the layers of the skin, where symptoms can be seen with the naked eye. Cancerous lesions develop when certain skin cells begin to grow abnormally. This happens when cell mutation is triggered by unrepaired DNA damage. While the prevalence of skin cancer is concerning, patients should know that this disease can be successfully eradicated when treated early.
What Are the Different Types of Skin Cancer?
There are three common types of skin cancer, each named for the type of cell that is involved.
Basal cell carcinoma develops when the basal cells in the epidermis begin to grow out-of-control. Because these cells can be triggered by UV exposure, basal cell carcinomas are often found on the face, scalp, ears, neck, shoulders, and back. Basal cell carcinomas typically do not spread to other parts of the body. However, they can be destructive to localized tissue and should be treated as soon as they are found.
Squamous cell carcinoma develops when the squamous cells in the epidermis mutate. Also associated with sun damage, this type of skin cancer is often found in areas such as the scalp, ears, face, neck, and hands. Squamous cell carcinomas may grow more quickly than basal cell carcinomas. These mutated cells may also spread to other parts of the body.
Melanoma is not as common as the other types of skin cancer, but it accounts for several thousand deaths each year. This skin cancer develops in the melanocytes, the cells that provide pigment to the skin. Related to pigment, melanoma may look like a mole or may develop in a mole. Though this type of skin cancer can develop anywhere on the body, even in the eye, the risk of melanoma does increase with intense sun exposure.
Am I At Risk for Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer can develop in any person, regardless of their skin type or complexion. Studies have confirmed that sun exposure and the use of tanning beds are two of the primary factors that can contribute to all forms of skin cancer.
What Does Skin Cancer Look Like?
The different kinds of skin cancer may manifest in unique ways. For example:
- Basal cell carcinoma may look like a small, shiny bump or nodule, a pink or red bump, a reddish patch of skin, or a sore that won’t fully go away.
- Squamous cell carcinoma may look like a rough, scaly, red patch of skin or a sore that will not fully heal. A squamous cell carcinoma may also resemble a wart.
- Melanoma skin cancer is commonly found on women’s legs and, with men, on the trunk area. Generally speaking, any mole or growth that does not look like others on the body should stand out as suspicious. Melanoma may look like a black or brown spot or a spot that is lighter than other moles. Typically, this abnormal growth will have a larger diameter, irregular borders, odd color, and asymmetry.
Skin Cancer Symptoms
Aside from the visual characteristics of skin cancers, these abnormal growths may be identified through other behaviors. Skin cancers may be raised growths that peel or flake and then return. They may exhibit poor healing capacity or may bleed when touched or scraped. Abnormal growths may also itch or burn. These are all indicators that a skin cancer screening should be sought.
How is Skin Cancer Diagnosed?
If you identify an abnormal growth on your body, schedule a dermatologic exam right away. To diagnose skin cancer, your dermatologist will first look closely at the growth and compare it with other moles and marks on your skin. A biopsy is usually conducted, as well. This test removes a small sample of skin for microscopic examination in a medical lab. The biopsy can determine which type of skin cancer has developed, if any.
If skin cancer is found in the biopsy, additional tests may be arranged to determine how far the disease has progressed. In the case of basal cell carcinoma, which rarely spreads, no additional tests may be needed. However, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma may be explored by examining nearly lymph nodes to determine if cancer has spread.
Treatment Options for Skin Cancer
Precancerous lesions and small cancers that are localized to a small area of the epidermis may be successfully treated with the skin biopsy alone. If cancer cells have permeated deeper layers of tissue or a wider surface area, a dermatologist will explore various treatment options.
Smaller cancers may be eliminated with cryotherapy, which freezes abnormal cells and causes tissue to slough off. A growth may also be scraped with a special instrument and destroyed with a mild electrical current. This technique is called electrodesiccation and curettage.
Higher grade skin cancers may require surgical excision, Mohs surgery, or a combination of treatments.
What To Expect from Skin Cancer Treatments
The goal of skin cancer treatment is to eradicate all abnormal cells in the affected area. Patients can expect their doctor to inform them of the nuances of their recommended treatment, including what happens during the procedure, how medication, if used, will affect the skin, and what degree of follow-up is needed after cancer has been successfully removed.
How to Prevent Skin Cancer
One of the unfortunate aspects of skin cancer is that, while this disease is so prevalent, it is preventable. Knowing that the majority of skin cancers are resultant from prolonged or intense, intermittent exposure to ultraviolet light, we can protect our dermatologic health by avoiding excessive sun exposure. People who spend a good deal of time outdoors or live in areas where sunlight is intense can support skin health by wearing broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen every day, reapplying every few hours to maintain protection. Regardless of skin tone, every person should apply broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen every day. The need for reapplication depends on how much sun exposure is incurred. A person who is in sunlight only to run errands may not need to reapply nearly as often as the person who works outdoors.
Will Skin Cancer Recur After Treatment?
Skin cancer can recur after treatment. This risk is usually associated with the severity of the original cancerous growth. Studies suggest that thicker and larger growths have a higher risk of recurrence, as do later stage melanoma growths.
In addition to recurrence, skin cancer patients need to be aware of their risk for new skin cancer lesions. Second nonmelanoma skin cancer rates are between 30 and 50 percent within 5 years. As many as 10% of melanoma patients may develop a new melanoma growth at some point.
Knowing there is an increased risk for second skin cancers and recurrence, patients must prioritize regular self-exams, annual skin cancer screenings, and proper sun protection. Having skin cancer does not mean one has to spend their life indoors; it means extra attentiveness is needed in the area of sun protection using clothing and broad-spectrum sunscreen.
Can Skin Cancer Spread to Other Areas of the Body?
Basal cell carcinomas typically stay localized where they develop. Although very rare, these cancers can spread. Both squamous cell carcinomas and melanoma are known to spread to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body if they go untreated.
Recovery Time After Skin Cancer Treatments
Recovery after skin cancer treatment depends on the use of surgical and pharmaceutical modalities. Patients who have a skin cancer removed through excision or Mohs surgery can expect 1 to 3 weeks of recovery during which the treatment area may feel sore and require special cleaning and care. Minor skin cancers treated with cryotherapy or biopsy may incur a recovery time of only a few days.
Schedule a Consultation
Our team provides patients with the detailed information they need to make educated decisions about their care. To schedule a skin cancer screening or consultation for skin cancer treatment in our Coral Gables office, call (305) 324-2110 or contact us online.