Detecting, Treating and Preventing Skin Cancer
One of every three cancers diagnosed in the United States this year will be skin cancer, for a total of more than 700,000 new cases. The risk of skin cancer is greatest in summer because ultraviolet rays from the sun are the main cause of skin cancer.
Fortunately, the most common types of skin cancers have a cure rate of more than 95% if they are detected and treated early. Even better, almost all skin cancers can be prevented simply by protecting the skin from the sun’s harmful rays.
Special Skin Diagnosis Tools
Using a special magnified viewing scope with a bright LED light called a dermatoscope, gives a highly magnified cross polarized view of skin lesions both on the surface and within deep skin structures. A trained skin cancer specialist can utilize these special screening tools to more precisely examine the skin for early cancer detection and to also reassure Orange County patients if a suspicious lesion is not showing evidence of cancerous vasculature. Dr. Sikorski uses the Dermlite developed by 3Gen.
Different Types of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer in general is a very frightening disease and is the most common cancer in humans. However, there are two positive aspects to skin cancer:
- Since skin cancer developes on the outside of your body, it can be detected early.
- The early detection of skin cancer allows you take preventive action to reduce the risk of getting skin cancer.
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BBC)
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. It usually develops on areas that are frequently exposed to the sun and is noticeable as a small, round, raised, red spot. If BCC is detected early, the chances of cure increase significantly. However, if BCC is left untreated it tends to grow in a very destructive and disfiguring way.
Warning Signs of BCC
Smooth, pink bumps with a pearly sheen that later crust, ulcerate, and bleed.
Commonly occur on the sun exposed parts of the body, especially the head, neck and hands. Read complete information on Basal Cell Carcinoma on Skinsight.com.
Who’s at risk for BCC?
Although anyone of any ethnic background and any age can develop basal cell carcinoma, the overwhelming majority of people with this type of skin cancer are white and middle-aged or elderly. In fact, more than 99% of people with basal cell carcinoma are white, and more than 95% are between the ages of 40 and 80 years old. Orange County men and women seem to develop basal cell carcinoma at fairly equivalent rates. In addition, sun exposure plays a large role in the development of basal cell carcinoma. People who live in sunnier climates or who spend time outdoors due to work or hobbies are more likely to have basal cell carcinoma.
What types of treatments are used for Basal Cell Skin Cancer?
In addition to the treatments noted below for SCC there are other methods of attacking Basal Cell Skin Cancer.
- Imiquimod: This cream encourages the body’s immune system to attack and eradicate the superficial basal cell carcinoma. It is usually applied several times per week for 6 to 12 weeks.
- Photodynamic therapy: In this relatively new technique, a photosensitizing substance (a chemical that is activated when it is exposed to light) is applied to the superficial basal cell carcinoma. After an incubation period in which the chemical is preferentially absorbed by the skin cancer cells, the superficial basal cell carcinoma is exposed to a particular wavelength of light in the physician’s office. The special light activates the chemical, causing destruction of the superficial basal cell carcinoma. Learn more about Photodynamic therapy.
- Laser: For widely spread superficial basal cell carcinomas, Dr. Sikorski may suggest carbon dioxide laser (such as the MiXto laser) to destroy the skin cancer and smooth the skin surface.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common skin cancer. Just as BCC, Squamous cell carcinoma develops on areas of the body that are most frequently exposed to the sun. It is a slowly growing cancer with a tendency to spread to other parts of the body. There is often a relation to actinic keratosis which is a preliminary stage of skin cancer. If SCC is detected early the chances of cure increase significantly.
Warning Signs of SCC
Raised, scaly, pink, wart like growths, which ulcerate as they enlarge. These are also common on the sun-exposed areas. Read complete information on Squamous Cell Carcinoma on Skinsight.com.
Treatments for Squamous Cell Carcinoma
- The first step is to establish the correct diagnosis by performing a biopsy of the lesion. The procedure involves: Numbing the skin with an injectable anesthetic.
- Sampling a small piece of skin by using a flexible razor blade, a scalpel, or a tiny cookie cutter (called a “punch biopsy”). If a punch biopsy is taken, a suture (stitches) or two may be placed and will need to be removed 6 to 14 days later.
- Having the skin sample examined under the microscope by a specially trained physician
If caught early and treated appropriately, squamous cell carcinomas generally have a good prognosis.
Treatment of a biopsy-proven squamous cell carcinoma depends upon many factors, including its microscopic appearance, its size and depth, its location on the face or body, and the general health of the patient. In general, the following treatment options exist for squamous cell carcinoma:
- Cryosurgery with liquid nitrogen: Very cold liquid nitrogen is sprayed on the lesion, freezing it and destroying it in the process. This is a good option for low-risk squamous cell carcinomas.
- Electrodesiccation and curettage: (also known as “scrape and burn”) After numbing the lesion, the doctor uses a curette to “scrape” the skin cancer cells away, followed by an electric needle to “burn,” or cauterize, the tissue. The electrodesiccation helps to kill the cancer cells and also to staunch any bleeding of the site. This is a good option for low-risk squamous cell carcinomas.
- Excision: The squamous cell carcinoma is cut out with a scalpel, and stitches are usually placed to bring the wound edges together. This is a good option for low-risk and some high-risk squamous cell carcinomas.
- Mohs micrographic surgery: In this technique, the physician takes tiny slivers of skin from the cancer site until it is completely removed. This technique is particularly useful for high-risk squamous cell carcinomas and for lesions located on the nose, the ears, the lips, and the hands.
- Radiation treatment: X-ray therapy is often useful for patients who are not good surgical candidates because of other health issues.
Rarely, the squamous cell carcinoma may spread internally (metastasize). Squamous cell carcinomas that develop in scars, on the lip, and on the ear have the highest risk of spreading. Lymph nodes may need to be examined for the presence of SCC. If internal spread is suspected, referral to an oncologist (a physician specializing in cancer treatment) for possible chemotherapy or other treatments would be appropriate.
Finally, it is important to remember that treatment of squamous cell carcinoma is not complete once the skin cancer has been removed. Frequent follow-up appointments with a dermatologist or with a physician trained to examine the skin are essential to ensure that the SCC has not recurred and that a new skin cancer has not developed.
Malignant Melanoma (MM)
Malignant melanoma is the most dangerous and life-threatening skin cancer of all killing nearly 7,000 Americans each year. MM has a great potential to spread to other parts of the body. Certain moles have the tendency to change their appearance and turn into MM. Because of its severity, it is important that MM is detected as early as possible to increase the survival rates.
First Warning Signs of a Malignant Melanoma
Melanoma masquerades as innocent skin growths or moles. They can look like a mole, bump or growth on the skin. It can appear anywhere on the body. In Orange County men, melanoma is found most often on the chest, stomach or back, and in women it is found most often on the legs. Beware of any development of a multicolored mole with jagged uneven borders or any other change in size, shape or color. Unlike the other skin cancers, these can occur on any part to the body.
Non Cancerous and Precancerous Lesions
Sometimes there are abnormal skin areas and lesions that are not yet skin cancer. Since these skin lesions have the potential to turn into skin cancer, they are called precancerous lesions. This precancerous condition is called Actinic Keratosis.
Actinic Keratosis (AK)
Actinic keratosis is a precancerous skin disease that is often associated with Squamous cell carcinoma. It nearly always occurs in areas that are frequently exposed to the sun. Actinic keratosis looks like a harmless rough scaly skin patch, but it can turn into skin cancer. This is why it is important to pay attention to your skin and treat actinic keratosis so that it does not turn into cancer.
Who’s at most risk for skin cancer?
It is most commonly seen in elderly and light-skinned Orange County patients with a large amount of sun exposure. Risk factors for the development of squamous cell carcinoma include:
- Fair skin, light hair, or light eyes
- Age over 50 years
- Chronic exposure to sunlight or other ultraviolet light
- Previous skin cancer
- Male sex
- Exposure to certain chemicals, such as arsenic or tar
- Exposure to radiation, such as X-ray treatment for internal cancers
- Long-term suppression of the immune system, such as organ transplant recipients
- Long-term presence of scars, such as from a gasoline burn
- Chronic ulcers
- Darker-skinned people are much less likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma, thought is the most common form of skin cancer in people of African and Asian descent.
How can I help avoid getting skin cancer?
- Seek Shade: Shade is not only the best place to go in the heat of the midday sun, but one of the safest places to be for your skin.
- Wear protective gear: If you know you’re going to be spending time in the sun, there are some things you can take along to protect your skin and eyes. UV protective sunglasses, a long sleeve cover and of course, sunscreen or sun block.
Use sunscreen every day: A little bit of cream, spray, or gel can save your skin.
- Keep kids out of the sun: OC children are in more danger than any other group when in the sun. Therefore they need special protection. Infants need shade and a hat.
- Self Exam: The best way to catch cancer before it catches you, is to discover it early. Take advantage of the fact that your skin is the most visible organ of the body and check it regularly.
- Follow up:If you have had skin cancer or precancerous lesions in the past you need to take special care and visit a dermatologist regularly.
Your Consultation Visit
You’ll enjoy a relaxing visit to our office where you can ask questions, meet our staff, take a tour of our office and surgical suite and view additional photo results of our Orange County patients.
Your consultation assessment is with Dr. Sikorski, not an impersonal or commissioned sales person. Fees and procedure preparations are discussed with our patient coordinator, who will detail the surgical experience with you.
Contact Dr. Sikorski if you believe you may have any of these skin cancer conditions. Schedule a consultation with Natural Image OC at their office in the Orange County area. Call (949) 448.0487.