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 is Basal Cell Carcinoma?
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. 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 re-opens
- flat scaly scar with a waxy appearance and blurred edges
Despite the different appearances of the cancer, 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.
What is Squamous Cell Carcinoma?
Squamous cells are found in the upper layer (the surface) of the epidermis. They look like fish scales under a microscope and present as a crusted or scaly patch of skin with an inflamed, red base. They are often tender to the touch. It is estimated that 250,000 new cases of squamous cell carcinoma are diagnosed annually, and that 2,500 of them result in death.
Squamous cell carcinoma 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.
What is Melanoma?
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. 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 spread rapidly to internal organs and the lymph system, making them quite dangerous. Early detection is critical for curing this skin cancer.
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. Most melanomas are caused by overexposure to the sun beginning in childhood. This cancer also runs in families, so it is important to understand your familial medical background and share this information with your provider.
How are Skin Cancers diagnosed?
Usually, your provider will physically evaluate your moles by following the American Academy of Dermatology’s ABCDE guide for assessing moles or lesions:
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.
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). For detailed information on their diagnosis click here.
You can also do a self-examination and monitor any moles or spots regularly. Some symptoms to recognize are:
- Large brown spots with darker speckles located anywhere on the body.
- Dark lesions on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, fingertips, toes, mouth, nose or genitalia.
- Translucent, pearly, and/or 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.
- Pink or red clusters of slow-growing scaly lesions.
If you notice any of these conditions, please make an appointment to see one of our dermatologists right away. The provider may need to perform a biopsy to determine whether or not the mole is cancerous.
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.
How are Skin Cancers treated?
There are various ways skin cancer can be treated, which depends on the type and area of the cancer. The treatments range from cryotherapy, Mohs surgery, and radiation therapy. For more information on the different treatments, click here.
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.