Skin cancer can be a scary topic, but even worse than talking about it is not talking about it. It’s important to get educated with some basic knowledge about skin cancer so you know what to look for and how to prevent it. Being armed with the four bits of knowledge below could wind up saving your life!
One in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their lives, but for most, it’s not a fatal sentence. Many types of skin cancer are treatable if detected early. Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer, affecting roughly 1 million Americans per year. BCC occurs in the topmost layer of the skin, known as the epidermis.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) also grows amid the epidermis, but is less common than BCC. It affects different cells -- hence, basal cell vs. squamous cell carcinoma. Melanoma, on the other hand, affects the skin cells known as melanocytes, which give skin its pigment. Melanoma is the most dangerous and rapidly-spreading type of skin cancer. Roughly one American every single hour dies from melanoma.
Most people associate skin cancer with moles, and for good reason. Moles, also known as nevi, grow when melanocytes cluster together. Though most moles are harmless in themselves, some can indeed be cancerous, so it’s important to keep an eye on them. Red flags typically include changes in size, shape, or color. People with many moles (more than 50) are more likely to develop melanoma in their lifetime.
While moles might be an early indicator, there are other signs of skin cancer too. For instance, BCC may appear as a shiny, translucent growth or a pinkish, elevated bump. It can also show up in the form of an irritated patch of skin or a sore. Any of these growths are usually found on skin that has been regularly exposed to the sun, like the face, ears, scalp, and neck.
SCC can appear as a scaly, crusted patch of skin with a reddish base. It’s also typically found on areas of the body that are exposed to the sun, but it can develop on areas that rarely receive sunlight too.
The primary skin cancer causes usually come as no surprise: exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation through natural sunlight or artificial UV tanning. The number one way to minimize your risk of developing skin cancer is to always wear a high-SPF sunscreen when exposed to sunlight, avoid tanning booths and beds, and receive a regular skin cancer screening from your dermatologist.
Depending on the type of skin cancer, treatment will vary greatly. First and foremost, it’s crucial that anyone with a mole irregularity get screened by a dermatologist. Additionally, patients with a past history of skin cancer or with more than 50 moles should receive mole-mapping by a dermatologist at least annually to track the size, shape, color, and location of all the moles on their body. And everyone, regardless of skin cancer history, should perform regular self examination to keep track of changes in existing moles and notice when new ones appear.
BCC and SCC, as well as non-cancerous moles and other benign growths, can typically be removed with surgical excision. This can include a shave excision, a scissor excision, or a surgical excision, depending on the type, depth, and location of the lesion.
Another type of skin cancer treatment is specifically reserved for more advanced stages of cancer or melanoma. Mohs Micrographic Surgery is an effective skin cancer surgery for removing tumors with as little effect on the surrounding skin as possible.
Have a suspicious-looking mole or just want to get checked out? Our dermatologists serve patients throughout the greater New York City area. Contact Vanguard Dermatology today to make an appointment.