Skin cancer is caused by abnormal growth of the skin’s cells. Although skin cancer often occurs on skin exposed to sun, it can also develop on areas that don’t ordinarily come into contact with sunlight. Skin cancer can affect people of all skin types, tones and colors.
Most skin cancer begins as changes in the skin. Changing moles, dry, scaly patches and new skin growth may be indications of abnormal cell growth and should be examined by a Ascension Seton dermatologist.
Early detection and treatment can help prevent the spread of skin cancer to other parts of the body. When treated early, most skin cancers can be cured. If left untreated, skin cancer can cause local destruction, spread through the body and even cause death.
Please contact us today to schedule an appointment at our office in the Clinical Education Center in downtown Austin. Dr. Fox and his staff look forward to meeting with you and sharing more information about your skin care options.
Skin Cancer: A Quick Overview
How Often Should You Get Screened?
Wellness & Prevention
Sun protection is the most important step you can take to keep your skin healthy and prevent skin cancer. Avoid artificial sources of ultraviolet light such as sunlamps or tanning beds, as these devices can increase your risk for skin cancer.
- Minimize midday sun exposure (between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.).
- Use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater daily. Reapply throughout the day.
- Keep your skin covered with long sleeves or hats, even on cloudy days. Some clothing has built-in ultraviolet (UV) protection.
- Don’t forget to protect your kids’ skin too, and teach them the importance of healthy skin habits and sun protection. Sun exposure in childhood is one of the top risk factors of developing skin cancer as an adult.
There are several different types of skin cancer that can be diagnosed:
- Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma typically develops on skin that has been regularly exposed to sun. Areas that are most affected include the head, neck and back of the hands. The face and nose are especially vulnerable to basal cell carcinoma. This type of cancer can appear as flesh colored or brown lesions, waxy bumps, pimple-like lesions or sores that will not heal over time.
- Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma is similar to basal cell carcinoma in that it most frequently occurs on skin that is regularly exposed to sun. It most frequently occurs on skin that is regularly exposed to sun. Scaly red patches on the skin, sores that don’t heal or a red raised bump can all be signs of squamous cell carcinoma.
- Melanoma is much less common than other skin cancers but can be far more dangerous. It can develop anywhere on the body, like moles or birthmarks, or in normally pigmented skin. The first signs of melanoma are a mole that changes in size, shape or color, or new skin growth that is unusual in appearance.
There are a number of treatment options for skin cancer. Our dermatologists will select the best treatment type based on several factors, including the type of skin cancer and its stage and location and your overall health.
The goal of surgical treatment is to remove all cancerous tissue. This can be done through excision, Mohs surgery, or curettage:
- In an excision, cancerous skin is cut away. This can be performed in a dermatologist’s office.
- Mohs surgery is performed by a Mohs surgeon, a dermatologist who has received additional special training. During a Mohs procedure, skin cancer is removed one layer at a time until clear margins (cancer-free areas) are seen microscopically. This surgical method offers a high level of precision and is especially effective in treating skin cancers that arise in high risk or cosmetically sensitive sites as well as those that have recurred when other treatments have failed. In most cases the site of the cancer removal can be reconstructed on the same day as removal.
- With currettage, cancerous tissue growth is scraped away. An electric needle is then used to burn any remaining cancer cells.
Not all skin cancer is treated surgically. Some patients are not candidates for surgery based on other health factors. In some cases, surgery is used in combination with other treatments. A range of non-surgical treatment options for skin cancer exists, and includes immunotherapy, cryosurgery, chemotherapy, photodynamic therapy and radiation therapy.
- Immunotherapy boosts the immune system’s ability to fight off disease. Drugs are administered that strengthen the immune response against skin cancer cells.
- Cryosurgery works by freezing away cancerous tissue.
- Chemotherapy is medication that attacks cancer cells directly. This method of treatment may be applied topically, taken orally, injected or infused.
- During photodynamic therapy, a chemical is applied to the cancer site, which is then exposed to a special light that destroys the cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill the cancer cells.
Treatments for Skin Cancer
When Should I See a Doctor?
Skin cancer aftercare depends on which treatment was used. Your dermatologist will give you specific instructions to ensure optimal recovery. In general, good aftercare involves monitoring the treatment site for any changes in the days and months that follow treatment. Performing self skin exams is good practice to watch for any areas of concern.
Remember that the best way to prevent skin cancer is to minimize sun exposure and avoid sources of artificial ultraviolet light such as tanning beds. Take the recommended precautions to protect your skin and your children’s skin from harmful ultraviolet rays. Daily use of sunscreen and protective clothing can help.