Skip to main content

Skin
Cancer

What is Skin Cancer? 

Skin cancer is the most common form of human cancers, affecting more than over 3 million Americans every year. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their lives. Skin cancers are generally curable if caught early. However, people who have had skin cancer are at a higher risk of developing a new skin cancer, which is why regular self-examination and doctor visits are imperative.

The vast majority of skin cancers are composed of three different types: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinomas and melanoma. 

What is Basal Cell Carcinoma? 

According to estimates from the Skin Cancer Foundation and other sources, an estimated 3.6 million to 5.4 million cases of basal cell carcinoma are diagnosed each year in the United States. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer and accounts for the majority of nonmelanoma skin cancer cases. It is important to protect your skin from the sun and to check your skin regularly for any unusual changes or growths. If you notice any changes in your skin, including new growths or changes in existing moles or bumps, it's important to see a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.

This is the most common form of skin cancer. Basal cells reside in the deepest layer of the epidermis, along with hair follicles and sweat ducts. Overexposure to both UVA and UVB radiation can damage the body's natural repair system, which can lead to the development of basal cell carcinomas. UVA and UVB radiation are types of ultraviolet radiation that are present in sunlight and can penetrate the skin. When the skin is exposed to UVA and UVB radiation for prolonged periods of time, it can cause damage to the DNA in skin cells, which can lead to mutations and the development of cancerous cells. Basal cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer that often appears as a small, raised bump on the skin. It is the most common type of skin cancer and is usually slow-growing and rarely spreads to other parts of the body. It's important to protect your skin from UVA and UVB radiation by wearing protective clothing and using sunscreen with a high SPF when spending time outdoors. If you notice any unusual changes in your skin, including new growths or changes in existing moles or bumps, it's important to see a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment. .These tend to be slow-growing tumors and rarely metastasize (spread). Basal cell carcinomas can present in a number of different ways:

  • raised pink or pearly white bump with a pearly edge and small, visible blood vessels
  • pigmented bumps that look like moles with a pearly edge
  • a sore that continuously heals and re-opens
  • flat scaly scar with a waxy appearance and blurred edges

Despite the different appearances of the cancer, they all tend to bleed with little or no cause. Eighty-five percent of basal cell carcinomas occur on the face and neck since these are areas that are most exposed to the sun.

What are the risk factors for Basal Cell Carcinoma? 

Risk factors for basal cell carcinoma include having fair skin, sun exposure, age (most skin cancers occur after age 50), exposure to ultraviolet radiation (as in tanning beds) and therapeutic radiation given to treat an unrelated health issue.

How is Basal Cell Carcinoma diagnosed? 

Diagnosing basal cell carcinoma requires a biopsy — either excisional, where the entire tumor is removed along with some of the surrounding tissue, or incisional, where only a part of the tumor is removed (used primarily for large lesions). The tissue is then analyzed by a dermatopathologist for diagnosis. 

What is the treatment for Basal Cell Carcinoma? 

Treatments for basal cell carcinoma include:

  • Curettage and Desiccation — This treatment involves using a small metal instrument (called a curette) to scrape out the tumor along with an application of an electric current into the tissue to kill off any remaining cancer cells.
  • Mohs Micrographic Surgery — The preferred method for large tumors, Mohs Micrographic Surgery combines removal of cancerous tissue with microscopic review while the surgery takes place. By mapping the diseased tissue layer by layer, less healthy skin is damaged when removing the tumor.
  • Prescription Medicated Creams — These creams can be applied at home. They stimulate the body’s natural immune system over the course of weeks.
  • Radiation Therapy — Radiation therapy is used for difficult-to-treat tumors, either because of their location, severity or persistence.
  • Surgical Excision — In this treatment the tumor is surgically removed and stitches are placed to repair the wound. 

What is Squamous Cell Carcinoma? 

Squamous cells are found in the upper layer (the surface) of the epidermis. They look like fish scales under a microscope and present as a crusted or scaly patch of skin with an inflamed, red base. They are often tender to the touch.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, an estimated 1.8 million cases of squamous cell carcinoma are diagnosed in the United States each year. Meanwhile, another estimate states that about 5.4 million basal and squamous cell skin cancers are diagnosed each year in the US.  It's important to note that these estimates include both basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, which are the two most common types of nonmelanoma skin cancer. However, squamous cell carcinoma is less common than basal cell carcinoma. Therefore, it's difficult to provide an exact number of how many cases of squamous cell carcinoma are diagnosed annually in the United States.

Squamous cell carcinoma can develop anywhere, including inside the mouth and on the genitalia. It most frequently appears on the scalp, face, ears and back of hands. Squamous cell carcinoma tends to develop among fair-skinned, middle-aged and elderly people who have a history of sun exposure. In some cases, it evolves from actinic keratoses, dry scaly lesions that can be flesh-colored, reddish-brown or yellow black, and which appear on skin that is rough or leathery. Actinic keratoses spots are considered to be precancerous.

In rare cases, squamous cell carcinoma can spread to other parts of the body and become more difficult to treat. It's important to protect your skin from the sun and to check your skin regularly for any unusual changes or growths. If you notice any changes in your skin, including new growths or changes in existing moles or bumps, it's important to see a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.

How is Squamous Cell Carcinoma Diagnosed? 

Like basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma is diagnosed via a biopsy — either excisional, where the entire tumor is removed along with some of the surrounding tissue, or incisional, where only a part of the tumor is removed (used primarily for large lesions).

What is the treatment for Squamous Cell Carcinoma? 

Treatments for squamous cell carcinoma include:

  • Curettage and Desiccation —  This treatment involves using a small metal instrument (called a curette) to scrape out the tumor along with an application of an electric current into the tissue to kill off any remaining cancer cells.
  • Mohs Micrographic Surgery — The preferred method for large tumors, Mohs Micrographic Surgery combines removal of cancerous tissue with microscopic review while the surgery takes place. By mapping the diseased tissue layer by layer, less healthy skin is damaged when removing the tumor.
  • Prescription Medicated Creams — These creams can be applied at home. They stimulate the body’s natural immune system over the course of weeks.
  • Radiation Therapy — Radiation therapy is used for difficult-to-treat tumors, either because of their location, severity or persistence.
  • Surgical Excision — In this treatment the tumor is surgically removed and stitches are placed to repair the wound.                  

What is Melanoma? 

While melanoma is the least common type of skin cancer, it is by far the most virulent. Melanocytes are cells found in the bottom layer of the epidermis. These cells produce melanin, the substance responsible for skin pigmentation. That’s why melanomas often present as dark brown or black spots on the skin. Melanomas spread rapidly to internal organs and the lymph system, making them quite dangerous. Early detection is critical for curing this skin cancer.

Melanomas look like moles and can grow inside existing moles. That’s why it is important for people to conduct regular self-examinations of their skin in order to detect any potential skin cancer early, when it is treatable. Most melanomas are caused by overexposure to the sun beginning in childhood. This cancer also runs in families.

Melanoma is diagnosed via a biopsy. Treatments include surgical removal, radiation therapy or chemotherapy.

What should I look for when concerned about a Melanoma? 

The key to detecting skin cancers is to notice changes in your skin. Look for:

  • Large brown spots with darker speckles located anywhere on the body.
  • Dark lesions on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, fingertips toes, mouth, nose or genitalia.
  • Translucent pearly and dome-shaped growths.
  • Existing moles that begin to grow, itch or bleed.
  • Brown or black streaks under the nails.
  • A sore that repeatedly heals and re-opens.
  • Clusters of slow-growing scaly lesions that are pink or red.

The American Academy of Dermatology has developed the following ABCDE guide for assessing whether or not a mole or other lesion may be becoming cancerous.

  • A symmetry : Half the mole does not match the other half in size, shape or color.
  • B order : The edges of moles are irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined.
  • C olor : The mole is not the same color throughout.
  • D iameter : The mole is usually greater than 6 millimeters when diagnosed, but may also be smaller.
  • E volving : A mole or skin lesion that is different from the rest, or changes in size, shape, or color.

How can I prevent Melanoma? 

A high percentage of melanoma cancers are attributable to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. That’s why prevention involves:

  • Staying out of the sun during peak hours (between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.).
  • Covering up the arms and legs with protective clothing.
  • Wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
  • Using sunscreens year-round with a SPF of 30 or greater and sunblocks that work on both UVA and UVB rays. Look for products that use the term “broad spectrum.”
  • Checking your skin monthly and contacting your dermatologist if you notice any changes.
  • Getting regular skin examinations. It is advised that adults over 40 get an annual exam with a dermatologist.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Greenberg, please contact our office at (941) 282-3376. Our staff will be happy to assist you in scheduling a visit at your convenience.