Skin cancers are the most common cancers in the United States, with more than 4,000,000 diagnosed each year. Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma make up the majority of them.
Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma begin with a few cells in the skin that begin to grow abnormally, faster and more aggressively than other neighboring cells. They may create small bumps or scaly or flat areas on the skin that may bleed and heal poorly. As they grow, they may invade neighboring skin and parts of the body adjacent to them. Occasionally, part of the tumor breaks off and spreads throughout the body (metastasizes). This rarely occurs with basal cell carcinoma, which is the most common skin cancer and is more often seen with some squamous cell carcinomas and melanomas. Most skin cancers occur on the head and neck area, as these areas are the most frequently exposed to sunlight, which is an important factor in their development. In addition to sun exposure, other possible causative factors include radiation, trauma, arsenic exposure, immunosuppressants, some skin diseases and certain chemicals.Once a suspicious area appears, your doctor may wish to sample it by doing a biopsy to determine what it is. This will help determine which method or therapy would be most successful for treating it. The standard methods include:
- a topical cream
- cryo-surgery (freezing the tumor)
- electrodesiccation and curettage (burning the tumor with an electric needle)
- radiation therapy
- Mohs surgery (a special technique using a microscope to aid in determining the extent of the tumor)
- PDT (photodynamic therapy), the use of a special topical agent followed by “blue light.”
You may have already had one of these techniques used to treat your skin cancer.
The most appropriate treatment choice depends on the type, location and size of the tumor, as well as the unique characteristics of each individual patient. Patients who have had at least one skin cancer are at an increased risk to develop others. Thus, the following precautions are recommended:
- Use sunscreen SPF 30 or above, daily. Reapply every 2 hours during prolonged sun exposure
- See a dermatologist regularly
- Wear protective clothing, including hats and sunglasses
- Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Seek shade