What Is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is a term used to describe the abnormal growth of skin cells. It occurs when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells (most often caused by ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds) triggers mutations, or genetic defects, that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors.
What are the Types of Skin Cancer?
There are three main types of skin cancer. Basal cell skin cancer occurs in the basal cell layer of the skin, and is the most common type of skin cancer in people with fair skin. Squamous cell carcinoma occurs in the squamous cells, and is the most common type of skin cancer in people with dark skin. Melanoma is the most aggressive type of skin cancer, and the most likely to spread to other parts of the body.
All forms of skin cancer can be cured when detected and treated early. Untreated skin cancers can spread to the surrounding tissue. In the case of melanoma, cancer can metastasize to other parts of the body, making it more difficult to treat. Numerous studies have confirmed that routine skin cancer screenings contribute greatly to declining skin cancer deaths.
What Causes Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is a manifestation of mutations in the DNA of certain skin cells. Mutations lead to the uncontrolled growth of cells, resulting in a mass of cancer cells. Studies indicate that cellular damage caused by exposure to ultraviolet light (UV) strongly contributes to the development of all types of skin cancer, including melanoma. However, squamous cell carcinoma may also be caused by some types of human papillomavirus (HPV).
What are the Symptoms of Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is often identified as a new or changed growth on the skin of the scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms, hands or legs. Although these are common areas for skin-cancer growths to form, they can occur anywhere.
How is Skin Cancer Diagnosed?
To diagnose skin cancer, a doctor reviews all symptoms, and checks the skin for any unusual growths or abnormal patches of skin. If skin cancer is suspected, a biopsy is performed on the growth or area of skin in question. Once the results of the biopsy are reviewed, the type of cancer can be determined, and a treatment plan created.
How is Skin Cancer Treated at Harris Dermatology?
Skin cancer treatment is customized to each patient and their type and stage of skin cancer. After considering all factors, including size, type, and location, a dermatologist may recommend one of several treatment options or a combination thereof.
- Cryotherapy uses liquid nitrogen to destroy abnormal skin cells in smaller growths.
- Photodynamic therapy destroys cancer cells using photosensitizing topical medication and laser light.
- Immunotherapy is a topical treatment that destroys cancer cells with medication applied to the skin.
- Curettage and electrodesiccation scrape cancer cells and uses an electric needle to destroy any that remain.
- Excisional surgery removes the growth as well as a small amount of tissue surrounding it.
- Mohs surgery removes layers of skin cells individually, examining each layer immediately using a microscope. This process is repeated until the microscopic examination is clear of cancer cells.
- Radiation treatment destroys cancer cells using high-powered beams of low-energy x-ray or electrons. These forms of energy affect cancer cells but do not penetrate beyond the skin, limiting their impact on overall health.
- Chemotherapy uses approved drugs to destroy cancer cells. This therapy may be applied to the skin, injected, infused through an IV, or taken orally.
- Biological therapy stimulates the immune system to attack cancer cells.
Am I a Candidate for Skin Cancer Treatment?
You are a candidate for skin cancer treatment if you have undergone an examination that has confirmed your diagnosis.
Suspicious growths or spots on any part of the body should be examined by a dermatologist. The specialist assesses the shape, color, size, and texture of the growth, as well as all others on the body, during a comprehensive skin cancer screening. Characteristics such as bleeding, dry patches, and scaling are evaluated.
A biopsy is also usually performed on suspicious growths. Biopsies are simple and safe. To obtain a small sample of tissue, the doctor uses a small instrument and removes the tissue under local anesthetic. The tissue is sent to a laboratory, where a pathologist examines cells under a microscope to determine if cancer cells are present and, if so what type. Pathology tests can determine the extent of skin cancer (stage) and provide information that is necessary to develop a successful course of care.
What is the Recovery from Skin Cancer Treatment?
Recovery from skin cancer treatment is dependent on the type and extent of therapy performed. Patients who undergo Mohs surgery can expect to need to follow post-treatment care instructions to help their surgical wound heal. This can take up to a few weeks depending on the size and location of the growth.
Other forms of treatment, such as radiation, may be performed as a series of sessions rather than a one-time procedure, incurring multiple “recovery times.” Our team provides the detailed information patients need to adequately prepare for their skin cancer treatment. We are also here to answer questions that may arise.
Is Skin Cancer Treatment Safe?
Treatment options for skin cancer have been vigorously studied through numerous clinical trials and, in many cases, years of research and development. Both pharmaceutical and surgical techniques have demonstrated high rates of efficacy and safety. Our team recommends treatment based on each patient’s type and stage of skin cancer, ensuring optimal results using the most conservative therapies.
Is Skin Cancer Treatment Painful?
Skin cancer treatments such as Mohs surgery and excision are performed with a local anesthetic. Numbing medication is applied to the skin and, in many cases, injected just beneath the skin. The use of analgesics enables patients to tolerate their treatment very well.
Harris Dermatology Practice Reviews
Extremely professional. Dr. Harris is top notch! Office staff & nurses are friendly, professional and efficient. Will recommend to all my friends. - K.R.
Very courteous, friendly and knowledgeable staff! Arrived on time and no waiting time. This is how all doctor office visits should be! - M.B.
Dr Harris has always been there for me everyone is polite helpful and caring - J.A.
How is Skin Cancer Prevented?
Although not every case of skin cancer can be prevented, the best way to avoid it is to protect skin from ultraviolet rays.
While multiple studies have shown that UV exposure and tanning bed use, in particular, increases a person’s risk of developing skin cancer, it is important to note that some people develop melanoma on areas of the body that are not typically exposed to UV rays. This is why routine skin cancer screenings are critical to early detection.
Is Skin Cancer Treatment Covered by Insurance?
Skin cancer treatment is nearly always covered by insurance. However, it is important for each patient to consult with their insurance provider for details. Some plans may cover a portion of treatment or certain types of treatment. Some may require pre-authorization before treatment will be approved for reimbursement. Patients are responsible for understanding their coverage, but we are happy to assist with this as much as possible.