Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in humans, affecting more than one million Americans every year. One in five Americans will develop this type of cancer at some point in their lives. Skin cancers are generally curable if caught early. However, people who have had skin cancer are at a higher risk of developing additional lesions, which is why regular self-examination and doctor visits are imperative.
What Is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancers are abnormal growths on the skin that can grow, creating a potentially significant morbidity and in some cases become fatal. Prognosis improves dramatically when they are caught early. Contributing factors to skin cancer include prolonged exposure to UV rays, age, and heredity.
What Are the Signs of Skin Cancer?
Early detection of skin cancer is critical, so it is important to know what cancer on the skin looks like. Skin cancer symptoms may include:
- Large brown spots with darker speckles located anywhere on the body.
- Dark lesions on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, fingertips, toes, mouth, nose, or genitalia.
- Translucent, pearly, and dome-shaped growths.
- Existing moles that begin to grow, itch, or bleed.
- Brown or black streaks under the nails.
- A sore that repeatedly heals and reopens.
- Clusters of slow-growing scaly lesions that are pink or red.
The American Academy of Dermatology has developed the following ABCDE guide for assessing whether or not a mole or other lesion may be becoming cancerous.
- Asymmetry: Half the mole does not match the other half in size, shape, or color.
- Border: The edges of moles are irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined.
- Color: The mole is not the same color throughout.
- Diameter: The mole is usually greater than 6 millimeters when diagnosed, but may also be smaller.
- Evolving: A mole or skin lesion that is different from the rest, or changes in size, shape, or color.
If any of these conditions occur, please make an appointment to see one of our dermatologists right away. The doctor may do a biopsy of the mole to determine if it is or isn’t cancerous.
What Are the Types of Skin Cancer?
The vast majority of skin cancers are composed of three different types: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
Basal Cell Carcinoma – This is the most common form of skin cancer. Basal cells reside in the deepest layer of the epidermis, along with hair follicles and sweat ducts. When a person is overexposed to UVB radiation, it damages the body’s natural repair system, which causes basal cell carcinomas to grow. These tend to be slow-growing tumors and rarely metastasize (spread). Basal cell carcinomas can present in a number of different ways:
- Raised pink or pearly white bump with a pearly edge and small, visible blood vessels.
- Pigmented bumps that look like moles with a pearly edge.
- A sore that continuously heals and reopens.
- A flat scaly scar with a waxy appearance and blurred edges.
Despite the different appearances of these carcinomas, they all tend to bleed with little or no cause. Eighty-five percent of basal cell carcinomas occur on the face and neck since these are areas that are most exposed to the sun.
Risk factors for basal cell carcinoma include having fair skin, sun exposure, age (most skin cancers occur after age 50), exposure to ultraviolet radiation (as in tanning beds), and therapeutic radiation given to treat an unrelated health issue.
Diagnosing basal cell carcinoma requires a biopsy to confirm the clinical diagnosis.
Squamous cell carcinoma – This type of cancer can develop anywhere, including inside the mouth and on the genitalia. It most frequently appears on the scalp, face, ears, and back of hands. Squamous cell carcinoma tends to develop among fair-skinned, middle-aged, and elderly people who have a history of sun exposure. In some cases, it evolves from actinic keratoses, dry scaly lesions that can be flesh-colored, reddish-brown or yellow black, and which appear on skin that is rough or leathery. Actinic keratoses spots are considered to be precancerous.
Like basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma is diagnosed via a biopsy.
Melanoma – While melanoma is the least common type of skin cancer, it is by far the most dangerous. It is the most common form of cancer among young adults age 25-29. Melanocytes are cells found in the bottom layer of the epidermis. These cells produce melanin, the substance responsible for skin pigmentation. That’s why melanomas often present as dark brown or black spots on the skin. Melanomas can spread rapidly to internal organs and the lymph system, making them quite dangerous. Early detection is critical because if caught early a local excision can result in a complete cure. . Melanomas look like moles and often do grow inside existing moles. That’s why it is important for people to conduct regular self-examinations of their skin in order to detect any potential skin cancer early when it is treatable. Many but not all melanomas are caused by overexposure to the sun beginning in childhood. This cancer also runs in families.
Melanoma is diagnosed via a biopsy.
Skin Cancer Treatment
The best defense against skin cancer is to practice prevention. Roughly 90% of nonmelanoma cancers are attributable to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. You can protect yourself by:
- Staying out of the sun during peak hours (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.).
- Covering up the arms and legs with protective clothing.
- Wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
- Using sunscreens year round with an SPF of 30 or greater and sunblocks that work on both UVA and UVB rays. Look for products that use the term “broad spectrum.”
- Checking your skin monthly and contacting your dermatologist if you notice any changes.
- Getting regular skin examinations. It is advised that adults over 40 get an annual exam with a dermatologist.
If you believe you already have skin cancer, it’s very important that you schedule a consultation with Dr. Brezel right away. Early treatment is critical to an optimal result. After your examination, and possibly a biopsy, Dr. Brezel will be able to tell you if and what type of skin cancer you have and what the best treatment approach will be.
Glendale Dermatology for Skin Cancer Examination in Queens, NY
If you think you may have skin cancer, you cannot afford to wait. Let us know by submitting the contact form below immediately and we will schedule an examination for you as soon as possible.