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Head & Neck

Skin Cancer

What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is when cancer cells grow in the skin. The two most common kinds of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. It develops in the outermost layer of skin. This cancer usually grows slowly and does not spread to other tissues in the body. Squamous cell carcinoma develops in the uppermost layer of skin cells. Squamous cell carcinoma usually grows slowly. However, in some cases it can grow fast and spread to other tissues in the body. If treated early this type of cancer is rarely fatal. However, the cancer can be fatal if it spreads beyond the skin. It is important that skin cancers be found and treated early. If left untreated, they can quickly invade and destroy nearby tissue.

What Risk Factors Might Cause Me To Get Skin Cancer?

Basal and squamous cell cancers are more common in men and in people over 50 years old. These cancers are most likely to occur in people with fair skin that freckles easily, red or blonde hair, light-colored eyes, and/or Caucasian skin. Other factors that increase your risk of skin cancer include personal history of skin cancer, exposure to UV radiation from the sub or artificial radiation from a tanning bed, excessive sun exposure without protective clothing or sunscreen, skin damage from burns or infections, exposure to arsenic/industrial tar/coal/paraffin/certain types of oil, radiation therapy treatment, light treatments for psoriasis, having a weak immune system due to illness or medications, and/or certain genetic diseases such as basal cell nevus syndrome or xeroderma pigmentosum.

What Are Common Symptoms of Skin Cancer?

Most skin cancers do not cause symptoms. The most common first symptom of skin cancer is a change in the skin. Basal cell carcinoma may appear in many forms. Common presentations include a slowly expanding painless growth, a bleeding scab or sore that heals and recurs, a flat firm pale area, a small raised pink/red/shy/pearly area that may bleed easily, and/or a large oozing or crusted area. Squamous cell carcinoma may appear as growing lumps with rough, scaly, or crusted surfaces, slow-growing flat, reddish patches in the skin, and/or a recurrent, non-healing ulceration or bleeding. Skin cancers can occur anywhere, but are more common on places that are exposed to the sun. 

How is Skin Cancer Diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may have a biopsy. The sample can then be examined for cancer cells. In cases where the growth is very large, or has been present for a long time, the doctor will carefully check the lymph nodes in the area. Your doctor may recommend more tests to determine if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

How is Skin Cancer Treated?

Talk to your doctor about the best treatment for you. Treatment may include surgery. Many skin cancers can be cut from the skin quickly and easily. In fact, the cancer is sometimes completely removed during biopsy, and no further treatment is needed. Surgical and non-surgical techniques include: simple excision, curettage and electrodessication, Moh’s surgery, cryosurgery, laser therapy, radiation therapy, topical chemotherapy, and/or immunotherapy.

How Can I Prevent Skin Cancer From Occurring?

Avoid spending too much time in the sun. Protect your skin from the sun with clothing. Wear a shirt, sunglasses, and a hat with a broad brim. Use sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more on skin that will be exposed to the sun. Avoid exposing your skin to the sun between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM standard time, or 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM daylight saving time. Don't use sun lamps or tanning booths. If you have any of the symptoms listed above, have your skin examined by a doctor. If you have fair skin, have your skin checked by a doctor. Learn how to do a skin self-exam.