Skin Cancer Diagnosis & Treatment

Skin cancer ranks number one in frequency of all types of cancers with more than 1 million skin cancers diagnosed each year in the United States.

Fair-skinned individuals who sunburn easily are at a particularly high risk for developing skin cancer. Other important risk factors for developing skin cancer include family history, the use of tanning devices, scarring from diseases or burns, repeated x-ray exposure, and occupational exposure to certain compounds.

Lesions referred to as AKs (or solar keratoses) are considered the earliest stage in the development of certain skin cancers. AKs can be treated by cryosurgery (liquid nitrogen), topical chemotherapy (applying a cream or lotion), chemical peeling, dermabrasion, laser surgery, electrodessication and curettage (ED&C - alternately scraping and burning the tumor), photodynamic therapy (a chemical applied to the skin is exposed to a light source), or other dermatologic surgical procedures.

Proper use of sunscreens can help prevent AKs even after extensive sun damage has already occurred.

BCC is the most common of skin cancers and affects over 800,000 Americans each year. It most frequently appears on the head and neck and often appears as a fleshy bump, nodule, or red patch. BCCs are frequently found in fair-skinned people and rarely occur in dark-skinned individuals. BCCs rarely metastasize (spread) to other organs, however, if left untreated, the cancer often will begin to repeatedly bleed and crust over, and can extend below the skin to the bone and nerves causing considerable local damage.

SCC is the second most prevalent skin cancer and affects over 200,000 Americans each year. It is most often found in fair-skinned people and rarely in dark-skinned individuals. SCCs are typically located on the rim of the ear, face, near the mouth, or on the trunk. This cancer may appear as a firm bump, or as a red, scaly patch. SCC can develop into large masses and become invasive, leading to extensive local tissue destruction.

Although SCC usually remains confined to the epidermis (outer skin layer) for some time, they eventually penetrate the underlying tissues if not treated. In a small percentage of cases, they metastasize to distant tissues and organs. SCCs that metastasize most often arise on sites of chronic inflammatory skin conditions or on the mucous membranes or lips.

When detected and treated early, the cure rate for both BCC and SCC approaches 95%.

Malignant Melanoma is the most deadly of all skin cancers. Annually more than 8,000 Americans will die from melanoma and more than 100,000 Americans will develop melanoma annually.

Melanoma begins in melanocytes, the cells throughout the skin that produce the pigment called melanin which makes the skin tan. Clusters of melanocytes are what make up moles. Melanoma may appear suddenly or begin in or near a mole, or another dark spot in the skin. Since melanoma cells can continue to produce melanin, this skin cancer often appears in mixed shades of tan, brown, and black; although, it can also be red or white.

Any changing mole must be examined by a dermatologist. Early melanoma can be removed while still in the curable stage. Melanoma readily metastasizes, making early detection and treatment essential to increase survival rates.

Excessive sun exposure, especially sunburn, is the most important preventable risk factor for melanoma. Heredity also plays an important factor in melanoma; a person has an increased chance of developing melanoma if a relative has had melanoma. Having a large number of moles can also serve as a marker for increased risk of melanoma. Dark skin is not a guarantee against melanoma.

Treatment options for skin cancer vary greatly depending on many factors including, type of skin cancer, size, pathological characteristics, and location. Our doctors will discuss all treatment options with you and establish a plan of care.

Medical Treatments