Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the United States, and there are several factors that can contribute to the development of this disease. This includes sun exposure and genetics, among others.
At the very core, skin cancer is an uncontrollable growth of mutated skin cells. This occurs when a skin cell becomes mutated by UV radiation, or other factors. Typically, a damaged cell will simply die and will no longer divide – it’s the body’s natural defense against such situations. However, in some instances the mutated cell will not die, but will instead continue to divide, with the mutation passed on to the new cells.
These mutated skin cancer cells will eventually grow in a cluster that becomes a tumor. At this point, most types of skin cancer can still be treated effectively, with high rates of success.
However, if untreated, the cancerous cells may eventually reach the lymph nodes, which will pass the mutated cells to other parts of the body. In this way, the cancer will travel to other organs, where the damaged cells will continue to grow and create more tumors.
Actinic Keratoses, (AK’s) are pre-cancerous skin lesions that typically occur on body parts that are most often exposed to the sun. They usually appear as small crusty, scaly, or crumbly bumps or horns. Early on, they may come and go. Sometimes they are more easily detected by feel than by sight. If untreated, AK’s can turn into Squamous Cell Carcinomas.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is one of the most common skin cancers. BCC is caused by long-term sun exposure. In addition, basal cell carcinoma sometimes resembles non-cancerous skin conditions such as acne pimples, psoriasis, or eczema. If you have unusual spots that have been present for more than one month, you should have them evaluated for skin cancer surveillance.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common skin cancer after basal cell carcinoma. They usually appear as thick, rough, scaly patches that may bleed easily. They often look like warts and sometimes appear as open sores. The skin around the site may exhibit signs of wrinkling, pigment changes, and loss of elasticity. While these lesions may also be slow-growing lesions that do not heal on their own, some types of SCC may develop very quickly.
Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. Even so, if diagnosed and removed while it is still thin and limited to the outermost skin layer, it is almost 100% curable. Once the cancer advances and spreads to other parts of the body, it is hard to treat and can be deadly. We recommend regular self-skin exams so you can keep track of any changing or new skin lesions on your body. Specifically, we advise you to look out for the ABCDE’s of melanoma.
A – Asymmetry
If you draw a line through a mole and the two halves do not match, then it is asymmetrical, a warning sign for melanoma
B – Border
The borders of early melanoma are often uneven. The edges may be scalloped or notched.
C – Color
Moles with a variety of colors is another characteristic of melanoma. A melanoma can be different shades of brown, tan, or black; melanomas can also become red, white, or blue.
D – Diameter
The diameter of melanomas are usually larger than a pencil eraser, but can also be smaller.
E – Evolving
If a mole is evolving (changing) have it evaluated by your dermatologist. Changes in size, shape, color, elevation, and the tendency to bleed, itch, or crust are signs of melanoma.
Everyone should have a skin exam for skin cancer surveillance annually; however, if you have a personal or family history of skin cancer, you may be advised to have skin checks every three to six months. Full checks are thorough, but are painless! Dr. Lily will look at each mole with a special microscope and will discuss the treatment options for any concerning moles with you.