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.
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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.
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.
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 ideal 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 effective 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.
Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology for the Greater Orange County Area.
Dr. Sikorski offers cosmetic & dermatology procedures to patients in all Orange County communities, including Aliso Viejo, Anaheim, Irvine, Laguna Niguel, Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, San Clemente, and San Juan Capistrano. Schedule your own consultational appointment today!