Skin cancer, which is the most common form of cancer in the country, is a result of the abnormal growth of skin cells that can affect skin anywhere on the body. It appears most often on skin that is exposed to the sun. There are more than a million new cases in the United States each year, which is why it is imperative to undergo a regular skin cancer screening with Dr. Shondra Smith at our office in Lake Charles LA. Contact us today to schedule an appointment for your routine screening.
What Are The Different Types Of Skin Cancer?
Some people are more prone to developing skin cancer, generally those with fair skin and blond or red hair. But this doesn’t mean anyone with olive or darker complexions should not be cognizant of skin cancer. Everyone, no matter their skin type, should check his or her skin periodically. Have a partner check your back. Here is what the different varieties will look like:
Actinic keratoses are not yet skin cancer. They are precancerous, but if left alone they can turn into basal or squamous cell carcinomas. These precancerous growths will be dry, scaly patches on areas that receive lots of sun exposure. Most people see their first actinic keratoses after age 40.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
This is the most common type of skin cancer. Eight out of 10 skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas. They grow in the lowest layer of the epidermis, the basal cell layer. These cancers usually develop on sun-exposed areas, especially the head and neck. They tend to grow slowly and it is rare that they spread to other parts of the body. If left untreated, basal cell carcinomas can grow into nearby areas and invade bone or other tissues beneath the skin, making removal potentially disfiguring.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
The second most common form of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma accounts for roughly one fifth of all skin cancers. These cells will look like abnormal versions of the squamous cells that are in the outer layers of the epidermis. Squamous cell cancers appear on sun-exposed areas of the body such as the face, ears, neck, lips, and backs of the hands. They are more likely to spread to other parts of the body than basal cell cancers, but this is still rare.
This deadliest form of skin cancer is also the rarest. But, unlike basal and squamous cell cancers, melanomas are far more likely to grow and spread if left untreated. When melanomas grow downward, they can begin to deposit cancerous cells into the bloodstream, which can then spread the cancer anywhere in the body.
A melanoma will suddenly appear as a new dark spot on the skin. They will also show as a change in the size, shape, color, or elevation of an existing mole. This is more typical in people with over 50 moles. Melanoma doesn’t have to occur on areas where there is excessive sun exposure.
What Are The Signs To Look For With Skin Cancer?
Squamous cell and basal cell carcinoma have some similarities in appearance, but melanoma is different. Here’s what to look for:
Basal cell carcinomas look like a flesh-colored, pearl-like bump or pinkish patch of skin.
Squamous cell carcinomas will look like a red firm bump, scaly patch, or a sore that heals and then re-opens.
As deserving of its far more dangerous health consequences, melanoma signs have been given an ABCDE alphabet acronym of sorts. Here are the signs of melanoma:
- Asymmetry — If one half of the mole doesn’t match the other half, that’s a concern. Normal moles are symmetrical.
- Border — If the border or edges of your mole are ragged, blurred, or irregular, it should be checked.
- Color — Normal moles are a single shade throughout. If your mole has changed color or if it has different shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white, or red, then it should be checked.
- Diameter — If a mole is larger than the eraser of a pencil, it needs to be checked.
- Evolving — If a mole evolves by shrinking, growing larger, changing color, itching or bleeding, or other changes, it should be checked. Melanoma lesions often grow in size or gain height rapidly.
How Does Dr. Smith Diagnose Skin Cancer?
For anyone over the age of 40, having your skin checked for skin cancer once each year is a good idea. This is especially important if you have fair skin and have had a lot of sun exposure throughout your life. For instance, every blistering sunburn a person had as a child doubles his or her chance for developing melanoma later in life. You should also check your own skin periodically, looking for the signs listed above.
When you come in for your skin cancer screening it’s a quick process. You will get undressed and put on a medical gown, as your entire body needs to be checked. This includes between your toes and the soles of your feet (melanoma can form in these spots).
Dr. Smith is visually looking for the signs listed above. She may use a dermatoscope, which is basically a hand-held lens that acts as a skin microscope of sorts. If she comes across actinic keratoses (these are pre-cancerous growths), she will usually freeze them with liquid nitrogen spray, and they will crust over and peel off in a couple of days. Or prescribe a chemotherapy cream that will be used for several weeks to ‘eat away’ the cancer cells.
When Dr. Smith suspects a growth is possible cancer, she will usually shave the growth with a curette, a small ring-shaped tool or use a biopsy punch to extract a piece of the growth. The sample is then sent to the lab for testing. If the test comes back negative, no further treatment is necessary. If it comes back positive, Dr. Smith will need to remove the growth.
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How Is Skin Cancer Treated?
If the biopsy of the shaved growth comes back as cancerous, these are the typical methods Dr. Smith employs to remove the growth:
- Cryosurgery — The growth is frozen with liquid nitrogen. The frozen cells crust and scab and then fall off within a couple of weeks.
- Electrodesiccation — This uses an electrocautery needle to burn and destroy the cancerous cells.
- Excision — For small growths, the curette basically scoops out the growth. For larger growths, a scalpel is used to surgically excise the growth, along with some surrounding border tissue as a safety margin. Mohs surgery is another method and is described below.
Mohs Micrographic Surgery
Although Dr. Smith does not perform Mohs surgery for skin cancer, she may recommend this form of surgery to remove your skin cancer. Mohs surgery is the most effective surgical method for removing skin cancer. It has the best chance of completely removing the cancerous cells with the least scarring.
Mohs surgery involves taking the known cancerous growth along with some of the bordering tissue. The tissue is then examined immediately under the microscope for signs of remaining cancer. The border continues to expand as necessary until the border tissue is cancer-free. Mohs surgery preserves the greatest amount of normal tissue and provides the foundation for the best skin reconstructions while limiting scarring and permanent disfigurement. This method is most commonly used for lesions on the face.
Although not every case of can be prevented, the best way to avoid it is to protect skin from the sun and ultraviolet rays. Recommendations include the following:
- Limit exposure to the skin, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Always wear sun screen with an SPF of at least 15
- Wear a hat in the sun
- Wear long sleeves and long pants
- Avoid tanning beds and salons
Performing routine exams on yourself to spot skin changes, and seeing Dr. Smith for a full body skin cancer screening on a regular basis, is also recommended. Contact us today to schedule an appointment or with any questions you may have.