Skin Cancer is the most common variety of cancer in the United States. It is estimated that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer during their lifetimes. Even more alarming, skin cancer has become increasingly common over recent years; as of 2016, one out of 54 people in this country is expected to develop invasive melanoma. This is partially attributable to the popularity of tanning salons and partially to climate change, since most skin cancer results from excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays.There can also be a genetic component in the development of skin cancer.
Preventing Skin Cancer
Your risk of developing skin cancer can be reduced by limiting your exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation and by using sunscreen when you are exposed. Because early detection is essential to preventing spread of the disease, it is important to make a habit of checking your body for any suspicious changes in your skin and to have regular examinations by a qualified dermatologist.
Skin Cancer Detection & Treatment
At Unique Dermatology & Wellness Center, we are well-prepared to screen you for skin cancer and to treat any cancerous lesions we discover. One reason it’s important to have your body checked by a professional dermatologist is that we are trained to detect skin cancer at its earliest, least obvious stages, when it is most treatable. Another reason is that, although most skin cancers occur on parts of the body that are frequently exposed to the sun (face, ears, chest, arms and hands), skin cancers can also occur where least expected, sometimes in places hard for the patient to see. Skin cancers can develop not only on the back, but on the scalp, in the groin, or on the soles of the feet.
Skin Cancer Screenings
When Dr. Dyan Harvey screens you for skin cancer, she is extremely thorough. She will look over your whole body, including your scalp, to discover any suspicious skin lesions or areas that appear to be precancerous. Precancerous lesions may be frozen with a simple spray. Any potential skin cancers will be biopsied to determine whether or not they are malignant. If a biopsy comes back positive for cancer, depending on its type and stage, it may require the removal of more damaged tissue, MOHS surgery, photodynamic therapy and/or the biopsy of a nearby lymph node to see whether the cancer has spread.
Common Types of Skin Cancer
There are several different kinds of skin cancer, some much more common than others. The types usually seen in our office are:
Actinic keratoses (plural of keratosis) are usually considered precancerous, but have to be treated because, left untreated, they can develop into squamous cell cancers. Often actinic keratoses begin as such small irregularities that they are discovered by touch rather than sight, since they have a bumpy texture. Usually actinic keratoses appear on areas exposed to UV light, such as the face, ears, neck, shoulders, or backs of the hands and forearms. More rarely, they may occur in places exposed to extensive X-rays. Most often they appear as elevated red bumps, but they may also appear as pink, tan, or white nodules.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma usually occurs on sun-exposed areas of the body, appearing as pearly or waxy bumps or flat scar-like lesions. Basal cell skin cancers are highly treatable and only spread to adjacent regions. Still, it is essential to remove them since they are invasive abnormal growths that may be spreading beneath the skin.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Like most other types of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinomas are usually the result of overexposure to the sun or other UV light sources and so appear on exposed portions of the body. Strangely, individuals with darker skin are more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma on parts of their bodies not often exposed to the sun. Squamous cell carcinomas appear as firm red nodules or slightly raised lesions with a scaly, crusted surface. Though highly treatable if detected early, squamous cell skin cancers can metastasize.
Melanoma, which can develop anywhere on the body, is much more dangerous than basal or squamous cell. In men, this skin cancer typically appears on the face or trunk, whereas in women is most commonly found on the lower legs. In both sexes, melanoma can develop on skin that hasn’t been exposed to sunlight. A melanoma sometimes develops as a mutation of an existing mole. In individuals with dark skin, melanoma tends to occur under the fingernails or toenails or on the palms or soles.
- The signs of melanoma include:
- Large brownish spot with darker speckles
- Mole that changes color, size, or texture, or bleeds
- Small lesion with irregular borders and differing colors
- Dark lesions on palms, soles, fingertips, toes or mucous membranes
Melanoma has to be treated promptly and completely because it can spread to other parts of the body within months. While melanoma is much less common than basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma, it has by far the highest mortality rates of the three.
Less Common Types of Skin Cancer
Other, less common types of skin cancer include:
- Kaposi sarcoma, which appears as dark red or purple patches on the skin or mucous membranes and often occurs in people who are infected with HIV
- Merkel cell carcinoma which causes shiny nodules under the skin and in hair follicles and most often occurs in older individuals
- Sebaceous gland carcinoma, an aggressive type of cancer which originates in the oil glands and often appears on the eyelid
Photodynamic Therapy for Skin Cancer
At Unique Dermatology & Wellness Center, in addition to other therapies, we use an innovative and effective treatment for skin cancer known as photodynamic therapy (PDT). This treatment uses light, combined with special medications known as photosensitizing agents, to destroy cancer cells. The medications, which are administered topically, are activated by the light source. There is always a time lapse between when the drug is administered and when the light is applied; this drug-to-light interval can vary, depending on the kind of medication used, from a couple of hours to a couple of days. PDT has many advantages over other types of treatment, including that it is noninvasive. Even so, in some cases PDT is not an appropriate option.
Patients come to Unique Dermatology & Wellness Center for a variety of reasons, some cosmetic and some health-related. Whatever motivates you to consult with Dr. Harvey, be it wrinkles, thinning hair, acne or weight loss, make sure to arrange for regular skin cancer screenings as well. Your sense of self-confidence and well-being are undeniably worthwhile goals, but nothing is more important than your health.