There are more than three million cases of skin cancer in the United States each year. The number of cases has increased at such a fast rate that now over half of all new cancers are skin cancers. At Skin Cancer Specialists, P.C. & Aesthetic Center, we advise patients to take basic precautions that can reduce their risk of developing cancer. It is important to visit your doctor regularly in order to identify and eliminate cancerous melanomas as early as possible to control the spread of the disease to other parts of the body. Below we address a few common questions and explain how you can stay in control of your health to prevent and treat melanomas.
What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer, like other forms of cancer, is a collection of abnormal cells that are starting to grow alongside healthy skin cells. The abnormal cells result from damaged and unrepaired DNA inside otherwise healthy cells, and in skin cancer, this damage is often caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
Sometimes the cancerous cells look like a regular mole, either flat or raised, making both self-exams and professional medical exams important on a regular basis so any cancerous growth is identified as early as possible.
Types of skin cancer
The most common type of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma, which accounts for 80% of all cases of skin cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma is the next most frequent form and represents about 16% of the total. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, the so-called “non-melanoma skin cancers,” are not usually life-threatening and can be cured with early detection and treatment.
Malignant melanoma, also referred to simply as melanoma, is the third most common type of skin cancer, accounting for about 4% of all skin cancers. Melanoma is a much more serious type of skin cancer because of its potential aggressive growth and metastasis (spread to other parts of the body).
Each of these three forms of skin cancer is distinct, and one type does not transform into another type.
How does skin cancer spread and develop?
Almost all cases of skin cancer are related to excessive exposure to ultraviolet light (e.g., sunlight) and are more prevalent in fair-skinned individuals.
There is even an association between the incidence of skin cancer and latitude, with more cases in the southern United States due to the longer warm, sunny season. Advancing age is also a risk factor for skin cancer, but all types of skin cancer can occur at almost any age.
Reducing your risk of skin cancer
In order to reduce the chances of developing skin cancer, it’s important to minimize direct exposure to ultraviolet light as much as possible. Helpful measures include wearing protective clothing and a wide-brimmed hat, as well as avoiding the outdoors during the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when the sun’s intensity is the highest.
A sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 should be liberally applied to all exposed skin, including the tops of the ears, every morning. It is also important to remember to reapply a layer of sunscreen every one to two hours during periods of direct exposure.
Although most of the damage done by the sun occurs during childhood prior to the age of 18, it is never too late to begin a program of sun protection. Even individuals who have had numerous skin cancers can reduce their future risk by following these helpful measures. Studies have shown that individuals who have a personal history of skin cancer are at very high risk for the development of other skin cancers.
When to get a professional skin cancer screening
It is recommended that patients at risk for skin cancer undergo a skin screening examination by a dermatologist at least once a year. We also recommend monthly self-examinations at home to check for skin cancer. Screening efforts are especially important in individuals with a history of significant sun exposure, those who have previously had skin cancer, and people who have a family history of skin cancer.
Is skin cancer treatable?
Yes, all forms of skin cancer are treatable thanks to advanced medical technology. Depending on the type, stage, and location of the skin cancer, the Skin Cancer Specialists, P.C. & Aesthetic Center team will create a treatment plan with you using one or more different options for effectively killing cancer cells before they spread further. To learn more about any of these treatment options, you can visit our skin cancer treatment pages, or talk to your provider during your next visit to our office.
MOHS micrographic surgery: Surgery on the microscopic level is a minimally invasive way to remove and treat basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and lentigo maligna that appear in the delicate areas of a patient’s face. The highly detailed precision of a microscope allows doctors to ensure that all of the cancerous cells were successfully removed.
Superficial radiation therapy: This low-energy radiation does not penetrate below the skin, but is effective at treating skin cancer. The process is short, painless, and does not require any anesthesia or recovery time, allowing you to continue with day-to-day life with minimal interruptions.
Blue light (photodynamic therapy): Blue light therapy is an FDA-approved method of treating pre-cancerous lesions called actinic keratoses (AK’S) on the face and body. If your regular self-examinations or your doctor visits identify these lesions early enough, blue light therapy can heal the affected areas.
Dermatopathology: Sometimes a skin biopsy, or small skin sample, is a useful way to determine the presence or type of skin cancer if a visual inspection is not concrete enough. Dermatopathology involves the study of the skin at the microscopic level, and a dermatopathologist can evaluate a skin biopsy at the cellular level in a pathology laboratory. Here at Skin Cancer Specialists, P.C. & Aesthetic Center, we have our own laboratory overseen by board-certified dermatopathologist Jessie Lee, M.D., who provides quick, detailed results to enhance patient care and treatment options.
Contact our office to make a skin cancer screening appointment today.