Skin cancer can be sneaky. It can hide under your fingernails, slink onto your eyelid or furtively spread beneath your hair. Learn how to check for skin cancer in both the open and the hidden areas, and discover how a time-tested procedure called Mohs can save your life.
1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime. Every year, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer in the US than with all the other cancers combined. In the past decade (2010-2020), the number of new invasive melanoma cases increased by 47%. Around 90% of nonmelanoma skin cancers are attributed to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, with around 86% of melanoma skin cancer associated with UV light exposure. These statistics published by the Skin Cancer Foundation show the increasing prevalence of skin cancer and the main culprit: sun exposure. While skin cancer can grow anywhere on your body, it is more likely to form on areas that receive a lot of sun exposure, like your face, arms, neck, ears, shoulders and scalp. Early detection is key to successful treatment of skin cancer, and skin cancer on the scalp often evades early detection -- it can hide on the top or back of your head and be concealed by your hair. Fortunately, there are signs you can look for in catching skin cancer early and treatments like Mohs skin cancer surgery that quickly and fully eliminate the presence of cancerous cells on your skin.
Skin cancer is the abnormal growth of skin cells, typically caused by exposure to UV rays from the sun. It is also highly treatable if caught and treated early. What should you look for when checking for signs of skin cancer? There are three common types of skin cancer to be on the lookout for. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer. It is highly treatable, as it grows slowly and tends to not spread to other parts of the body. However, it is very important to treat BCC -- left untreated, it can grow deep and cause harm. A dermatologist can remove an early BCC growth during an outpatient appointment. Signs of BCC are a reddish bump with a dip in the middle, a rough and scaly patch that doesn’t go away, a sore that doesn’t heal or keeps returning, a round growth that appears on your skin and can have the same appearance as the surrounding skin or look waxy. Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is another common form of skin cancer that grows in the middle and outer layers of the skin. It grows slowly, but more aggressively than BCC. Frequently a SCC will grow from a precancerous growth called actinic keratoses. SCC is rarely life threatening, especially when treated at the actinic keratoses stage, when it can be removed with minor surgery. SCC can look like a round, firm, red nodule, a rough scaly patch that doesn’t go away and might turn into a sore that doesn’t heal. Melanoma is a skin cancer that sits apart from other skin cancers in the level of danger it poses to the rest of your body because it tends to spread and grow so rapidly. It is known as the deadliest skin cancer, but like other skin cancers, is quite treatable when caught early. When looking for melanoma, dermatologists recommend using the ABCDE’s of melanoma. A is for asymmetrical moles that are different on each side; B is for an uneven border to a suspicious spot; C is for a spot that has varying colors; D is for having the diameter bigger than a pencil eraser; and E is for any spot that has evolved or changed in shape, color or size.
If you find precancerous or cancerous growths in highly visible areas, like your scalp, Mohs micrographic surgery is one of the best skin cancer treatments you can receive. Mohs has been around a long time and has proven reliable in completely removing all cancerous cells in the actual growth and in the surrounding tissue. Mohs is also minimally invasive, leaving little scarring on the treated skin. During the outpatient procedure, your doctor shaves thin layers of skin from the area where the skin cancer is. Your doctor then takes the removed skin to be examined microscopically. If cancerous cells are in the removed layer, your doctor will continue to remove layers until no more cancerous cells are detected. Usually your doctor can close up and bandage the wound during the appointment, with nothing more than a follow-up appointment needed. Occasionally, your doctor may refer you to a plastic surgeon to get further treatment so that there is as little scarring as possible.
Because early detection is so important for successful treatment of skin cancer, it is critical that you are checking your skin for signs of skin cancer. You should also schedule an annual exam with a dermatologist to ensure that any growths are caught and treated. When performing a self exam, stand naked in front of a full-length mirror and have a hand mirror to check in areas that are harder to see. You might also want to ask someone to help you by looking at spots you may not be able to see with mirrors. The top of your head is just such an area. As you perform self-checks, you will get to know your skin better and thus be more equipped to notice changes on your skin that could indicate the presence of skin cancer.
Ready to schedule your annual skin exam? Want to get a suspicious spot on your skin checked by a dermatologist? Call Vanguard Dermatology in the greater New York City area. The board-certified dermatologists at Vanguard are expertly qualified to treat and prevent skin cancer, including performing Mohs micrographic surgery.