The sun’s UV rays aren’t just bad news when it comes to the signs of aging on your skin. Exposure to ultraviolet light can also increase your risk for skin cancer, the most common type of cancer in the US. More than two million people receive a diagnosis of skin cancer each year, and about 20 percent of people will face skin cancer at some point in their lifetimes.
Although melanoma, the rarest and most deadly type of skin cancer might get a great deal of attention, it’s not the only type there is. Understanding the different types of cancer, including what to look for and how they can be treated, can help you protect your skin and your health.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one out of every three diagnosed cancers is a type of skin cancer. Of all those skin cancers, the most common type is a basal cell carcinoma. The tumors develop in the basal cells, which are located in the deepest layer of the epidermis.
Basal cell carcinomas look different from what you might expect. They don’t look like moles, for the most part. Instead, the tumors can look like open, red sores, like an irritated, red patch of skin, like a raised, pink growth, like a shiny bump, or like an area of scar tissue. The tumors typically develop on parts of the body that see regular sun exposure, such as the face, shoulders, and scalp. While sun exposure is the primary cause of this type of cancer, it can also develop as a result of irritation or inflammation after a tattoo, vaccine, or infection. Exposure to poison, such as arsenic, or radiation can also contribute to the formation of a basal cell carcinoma.
The sooner a basal cell carcinoma is treated, the better. If left alone, the tumor can continue to grow, leading to disfigurement. The good news is that this type of skin cancer is hardly ever fatal. There are a number of ways to treat a basal cell carcinoma, including surgical removal. Mohs surgery is generally the preferred method, particularly for tumors that develop on a person’s face. The precise procedure typically leaves the most skin intact while removing the greatest amount of the tumor.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
If basal cell carcinomas form in the basal cells, it makes sense that squamous cell carcinomas develop in the squamous cells, or upper layer of the epidermis. This type of skin cancer is less common than basal cell carcinoma, but still affects nearly three quarters of a million people each year. It can also be fatal, if not treated in a timely fashion. The cancer kills several thousand people annually.
The sun is a common culprit when it comes to squamous cell carcinoma, as are other sources of UV exposure, such as tanning beds. It most often forms on parts of the skin that are exposed to sunlight, but can develop anywhere, including on mucous membranes. Since the cancer is linked to cumulative sun exposure, over the course of a person’s life, the tumors often develop on parts of the body that also show other signs of sun exposure, such as wrinkles, age spots and broken capillaries.
Typically, a squamous cell carcinoma looks like a scaly patch on the skin. It can be red, brown or look like a wart. If scratched, the patch will usually bleed. In some cases, the tumor can look like a sore that refuses to heal.
Like basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell can often be treated with Mohs surgery. Other treatment options are also available, but may not be as effective. For example, very superficial tumors can be treated with cryotherapy, which freezes the tumor using liquid nitrogen. Treatment of the tumor will depend in part on where on the body it is located and its size and spread.
Melanoma is the least common, but most deadly, type of skin cancer. It affects about 120,000 people per year, but kills nearly 10,000 people yearly. There are generally two methods used to detect a melanoma early on. The first is known as ABCDE and involves looking for moles or lesions that are asymmetrical, have an uneven border, are multiple colors, have a diameter larger than 1/4 inch, and are evolving.
The other method is known as the Ugly Duckling. It involves looking for a mole or lesion that looks considerably different than the others a person has on his or her skin.
Early detection and treatment are critical when it comes to melanoma, as the cancer can spread to other parts of the body. Surgery is often performed to remove the tumor and any traces of cancer. Mohs surgery is an option, but isn’t always used to remove melanoma.
Getting a diagnosis of skin cancer can be a frightening thing, which is why it’s important to have a dependable and experienced medical team on your side. In Brevard County, dermatologists often refer skin cancer patients to Dr. Ross Clevens, the only board certified, practicing facial plastic surgeon in the area. Dr. Clevens is able to perform Mohs surgery on numerous patients, removing any traces of cancer while preserving their appearance. To learn more about skin cancer and your surgical options, contact Dr. Clevens for an appointment today by calling (321) 727-3223.