Affecting approximately one in five people, skin cancer is the most prevalent type of cancer. It occurs when abnormal cells in the outer layer of skin, known as the epidermis, begin to grow out of control and form malignant tumors. These cancerous cells are typically caused by UV radiation from sunlight and tanning beds, which is why skin cancer most commonly occurs in areas that are frequently exposed to the sun. Since these lesions can also form in areas not usually exposed to the sun, it is important to monitor any changes in your skin and get yearly exams with a dermatologist.
Fortunately, when caught in its earlier stages, skin cancer is highly treatable and can leave behind minimal scarring when removed. As cases of the disease continue to rise, our board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Adam Mamelak, strives to educate men and women about how to prevent, detect, and treat skin cancer. Renowned for his expertise in Mohs micrographic surgery, Dr. Mamelak can help you find the most effective and conservative solution for your specific type of skin cancer.
- Skin Cancer Types
- Skin Cancer Signs
- Skin Cancer Risk Factors
- Skin Cancer Prevention
- Skin Cancer Treatments
What Are the Different Types of Skin Cancer?
There are three major types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Discovering which condition you have will determine the ideal treatment options and how the lesion may progress.
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
A type of nonmelanoma skin cancer, basal cell carcinomas form in the basal cell layer of the epidermis. They can take on many forms, appearing as sores that will not heal, pearly or shiny bumps, or brown or red lesions.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
Squamous cell carcinomas is a nonmelanoma skin cancer that develops in the squamous cell layer of the epidermis. This type of skin cancer is more common in darker skin tones, and can spread if not treated early. SCCs often present as dense, red bumps or a flat, crusted patch.
Although the least common of the three, melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. It develops from melanocytes, which are the cells that create pigment in the skin. Melanoma often looks like moles, or it can form on existing moles. These malignant tumors are more likely to metastasize (spread) to nearby tissues.
What Are Common Signs of Skin Cancer?
Knowing what skin cancer looks like is important for early detection and treatment. In general, BCC and SCC often look like scaly, crusted sores that don’t heal. BCC can look like a pink or pearly bump on the skin, or a scar-like patch that bleeds easily. SCC often develops like a scaly red patch of skin, resembling eczema or even a ringworm infection.
- Asymmetrical: The patch looks unevenly balanced.
- Border: The outer edge is jagged or irregular.
- Colors: Multiple colors are present.
- Diameter: The spot is bigger than 6mm, or the width of a pencil eraser.
- Evolved: Any of these characteristics are changing with time.
Spots that suddenly appear may also indicate a cancerous or precancerous growth. Pay attention to if it bleeds, is flaky, itches, is sore, or won’t heal, as these are all signs of skin cancer.
What Are Risks Factors for Skin Cancer?
People of all skin tones and backgrounds can develop skin cancer, but some people are at a higher risk of the disease. By knowing your risk factors, you can be more proactive about getting screened and knowing what signs to look for. People who are typically more vulnerable to skin cancer often exhibit one or more of the following:
- Fair skin, light hair, and blue or green eyes.
- Tend to burn and not tan in the sun.
- History of excessive sun exposure and many sunburns.
- Live in a sunny region or high altitude.
- Family history of skin cancer.
- Numerous moles around the body.
- Previously diagnosed with skin cancer.
- Suppressed immune systems.
How Can I Prevent Skin Cancer?
Since approximately 90% of skin cancers are linked back to sun and UV exposure, the best prevention is to protect yourself from the sun. Use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher daily, reapplying every two hours when outside. Cover up with a hat, UV-blocking sunglasses, and long clothing for an extra layer of protection. Limit time in the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is at its peak. You should also take care to avoid getting sunburned, as this causes cellular damage. In fact, the risk of melanoma doubles when you have five or more sunburns in your life. In addition to minimizing sun exposure, avoid tanning beds which can cause UV damage that increases the risk of skin cancer.
How Is Skin Cancer Treated?
Early detection is the most important factor in determining the prognosis of skin cancer. When caught in its early stages, treatment is typically more predictable and less invasive. Keep in mind, however, that the most appropriate treatment options will ultimately depend upon the type of skin cancer and how much it has progressed. To learn of this information, Dr. Mamelak may take a biopsy of the area for it to be examined at a lab by a pathologist.
If you are diagnosed with skin cancer, Dr. Mamelak will always recommend the most conservative treatments that are likely to be effective for your individual case. Common methods of removing skin cancer and its associated risks include:
- Creams and ointments, like 5-Fluorouracil or imiquimod.
- Oral medications, like Erivedge® (Vismodegib) or Odomzo® (Sonidegib).
- Radiation therapy, like SRT.
- Surgical removal, like cryotherapy, curettage and electrodesiccation, excision, or Mohs micrographic surgery.
In some cases a non-surgical treatment will first be used to monitor how the cancerous lesion responds, and if it does not eliminate the malignant cells, a surgical treatment may become necessary. Skin cancer is a highly treatable disease when caught early, and with regular screenings by a board-certified dermatologist, you can protect your skin and overall health long-term.
For more information about how to identify, prevent, and treat skin cancer, please contact The Austin Mohs Surgical Center to schedule an appointment with Dr. Mamelak.