What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer is the most common form of human cancers, affecting more than one million Americans every year. One in five Americans will develop skin 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 a new skin cancer, which is why regular self-examination and doctor visits are imperative.
Did you know…
The vast majority of skin cancers are composed of three different types: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the different types of Skin Cancer?
Basal cell carcinoma 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. These tend to be slow-growing tumors and rarely metastasize (spread).
Squamous cells are found in the upper layer (the surface) of the epidermis. They are often tender to the touch and tend to develop among fair-skinned, middle-aged and elderly people with a history of sun exposure. In some cases, it evolves from actinic keratosis – precancerous patchy lesions.
While melanoma is the least common type of skin cancer, it is by far the most virulent. It is the most common form of cancer among young adults age 25 to 29. Melanocytes are cells found in the bottom layer of the epidermis. Melanomas spread rapidly to internal organs and the lymph system, making them quite dangerous. Early detection is critical for curing this skin cancer.
For more details on skin cancer types, click here.
How are Skin Cancers diagnosed?
Your provider will follow the American Academy of Dermatology’s ABCDE guide in assessing moles or lesions.
When a mole or a spot looks suspicious, your provider will recommend getting a biopsy for a pathological and microscopic evaluation. It can be either an excisional biopsy, where the entire tumor is removed along with some of the surrounding tissue, or an incisional biopsy, where only a part of the tumor is removed (used primarily for large lesions).
Prior to the removal, your provider will clean the area and inject a local anesthetic to numb the area of concern. Once the area is fully numbed, the provider will either excise the entire area using a scalpel (excision), remove a thin layer of tissue using a thin blade (shave biopsy), or remove a deeper layer of tissue using a disposable punch biopsy. The excision and punch biopsy will require stitches to close the open wound, requiring you to return to the office in 10-14 days to remove the stitches. A shave biopsy will not require stitches, however, you will still need to follow up in 2-3 weeks to monitor the healing process and review the results.
How is Basal Cell Carcinoma treated?
Once the results from your biopsy are received and reviewed, your provider will determine the best fit treatment for your basal cell carcinoma. Some of these treatment options include:
- Cryotherapy — Some basal cell carcinomas respond to cryosurgery, where liquid nitrogen is used to freeze off the tumor.
- Electrodesiccation — This treatment is widely preferred amongst dermatologists. It involves using a small metal instrument (called a curette) to scrape out the tumor and then applying an electric current into the tissue to kill off any remaining cancer cells.
- Surgical Excision — In this treatment the tumor is surgically removed and stitched up.
- Prescription Medicated Creams — These creams can be applied at home. They stimulate the body’s natural immune system over the course of weeks.
- Mohs Micrographic Surgery — This is the preferred method for large tumors. It combines removal of cancerous tissue with microscopic review while the surgery takes place. By mapping the diseased tissue layer by layer, less healthy skin is damaged when removing the tumor. If a Mohs surgery is required, our providers will refer you to a Mohs specialist surgeon.
- Radiation Therapy — Radiation therapy is used for difficult-to-treat tumors, either because of their location, severity or persistence. This therapy will require you to see a specialist or visit a hospital.
How is Squamous Cell Carcinoma treated?
After reviewing the biopsy results, your provider will evaluate the best treatment plan for your squamous cell carcinoma. Deciding on a treatment type depends on the location and size of the cancer, and type of squamous cell carcinoma. It is typically removed in whole through an excision or with Mohs surgery.
How do I prevent Skin Cancer?
Roughly 90% of nonmelanoma cancers are attributable to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Prevention involves:
- 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.
- Using sunscreens year round with a SPF of 15 or greater with both UVA and UVB ray protection. Look for products that use the term “broad spectrum.”
- Wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
- Checking your skin monthly and contacting your provider if you notice any changes.
- Getting regular skin examinations. It is advised that adults over 40 get an annual exam with a dermatologist.
Schedule an appointment with us if you are concerned about specific moles or noticed changes in your skin. Borealis Dermatology offers two convenient locations to provide various treatments for our patients in the Queens and Long Island areas. You can experience the highest medical and aesthetic expertise available through our treatment options by visiting our clinic.