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Skin Cancer

Medical Skin Condition

What skin cancer looks like

Even the same type of skin cancer can look very different from person to person. This makes it hard to look at a picture and tell if you have skin cancer.

The best way to tell if you have skin cancer is to see a dermatologist. You should see a dermatologist right away for a skin cancer check if you see anything on your skin that lasts for 2 weeks or longer and is:

  • Growing.
  • Changing shape.
  • Bleeding or itching.

These are signs of skin cancer. If it is caught early and removed, skin cancer has a high cure rate.

The American Academy of Dermatology offers free skin cancer screenings throughout the year. We also can help you find a dermatologist in your area. Simply use the tools in the right column of this page.

 

The most common cancer in the world

More than 2 million cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed this year. And that’s just in the United States. Most Americans will have one of these skin cancers:

  • Basal (bay-sal) cell carcinoma.
  • Squamous (skwey-muhs) cell carcinoma.
  • Melanoma.

 

Skin cancer: Signs and symptoms

The most common warning sign of skin cancer is a change to your skin.

And the most common change is something growing on your skin. This growth can appear on the skin in many ways. The following explains the signs (what you see) and symptoms (what you feel) of the most common types of skin cancer.

 

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)

This is the most common type of skin cancer. It most often appears on skin that gets lot of sun, such as the face, scalp, neck, hands, and arms. You will find BCCs on other parts of the body, too. It can appear on parts of the body that did not get lots of sun, such as the genitals.

BCC often grows slowly. It may look like a:

  • Reddish patch of dry skin that won’t heal
  • Flesh-colored (or pink, red, or brown) pearl-shaped lump
  • Pimple that just won’t clear
  • Sore that bleeds, heals, and then returns
  • Scar that feels waxy — may be skin-colored, white, or yellow
  • Group of slow-growing, shiny pink or red growths — look like sores, often scaly and bleed easily
  • Flat or sunken growth — feels hard, may be white or yellow

 

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)

This is a very common type of skin cancer. It often appears on skin that got lots of sun, such as an ear, face, bald scalp, neck, or arm. But it can appear elsewhere — even inside the mouth, on the lip, or on the genitals.

Too much sun is often the cause, but it is not the only cause. SCC can appear on skin that was badly burned, had lots of radiation (such as x-rays), or was exposed to strong chemicals.

SCC often has a reddish color. Without treatment, it can grow deeply. If this happens, the cancer can spread to other parts of the body. This can be deadly. SCC often looks like a:

  • Hard (scaly or crusty) reddish bump, patch, or pearl-shaped growth
  • Open sore that itches and bleeds; it can heal and return
  • Scaly patch on the lip; skin on the lip can get thick

 

Melanoma

Know where you have moles on your skin! Melanoma often appears in an existing mole or looks like a new mole. By knowing where you have moles on your skin, you can find melanoma when it first appears. When treated early, melanoma is often curable.

Here’s what to looks for:

  • A mole on the skin that is growing, changing shape, or changing color
  • A mole that looks scaly, oozes, or bleeds
  • New dark spot on the skin that looks like a mole, but grows quickly
  • Pain, itch, or bleeding in a new spot on the skin
  • Streak (usually brown or black) underneath a fingernail or toenail
  • Bruise on the foot that does not heal

 

Skin cancer: Diagnosis, treatment, and outcome


How do dermatologists diagnose skin cancer?

To diagnose skin cancer, a dermatologist looks at the skin. A dermatologist will carefully examine growths, moles, and dry patches.

To get a better look, a dermatologist may use a device called a dermoscope. The device shines light on the skin. It magnifies the skin. This helps the dermatologist to see pigment and structures in the skin.

If a dermatologist finds something that looks like skin cancer, the dermatologist will remove it (or part of it). The removed skin will be sent to a lab. Your dermatologist may call this a biopsy. Skin cancer cannot be diagnosed without a biopsy.

A biopsy is quick, safe, and easy for a dermatologist to perform. A biopsy should not cause anxiety. The discomfort and risks are minimal.


How do dermatologists treat skin cancer?

There are many treatments for skin cancer. A dermatologist selects treatment after considering the following:

  • Type of skin cancer.
  • Where the skin cancer appears on the body.
  • Whether the skin cancer is aggressive.
  • Stage of the cancer (how deeply the skin cancer has grown and whether it has spread).
  • Patient’s health.

After considering the above, your dermatologist will choose 1 or more of the following treatments for skin cancer.

Surgical treatment: When treating skin cancer, the goal is to remove all of the cancer. When the cancer has not spread, this is often possible. To remove skin cancer, the following surgical treatment may be used:

  • Excision: To perform this, the dermatologist numbs the skin and then surgically cuts out the skin cancer and a small amount of normal-looking skin. This normal-looking skin is called a margin. There are different types of excision. Most excisions can be performed in a dermatologist’s office.
  • Mohs surgery: A dermatologist who has completed additional medical training in Mohs surgery performs this procedure. Once a dermatologist completes this training, the dermatologist is called a Mohs surgeon.

    Mohs surgery begins with the surgeon removing the visible part of the skin cancer. Because cancer cells are not visible to the naked eye, the surgeon also removes some skin that looks normal but may contain cancer cells.

    This part of the surgery is performed one layer at a time. After removing a layer of skin, it is prepared so that the surgeon can examine it under a microscope and look for cancer cells.

    If the surgeon sees cancer cells, the surgeon removes another layer of skin. This layer-by-layer approach continues until the surgeon no longer finds cancer cells. In most cases, Mohs surgery can be completed within a day or less. The cure rate for skin cancer is high when Mohs surgery is used.
  • Curettage and electrodesiccation: This surgical procedure may be used to treat small basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers.

    It involves scraping the tumor with a curette (a surgical instrument shaped like a long spoon) and then using an electric needle to gently cauterize (burn) the remaining cancer cells and some normal-looking tissue. This scraping and cauterizing process is typically repeated 3 times. The wound tends to heal without stitches.

    Sometimes, curettage is used alone.

Other treatments:Surgical treatment is not right for every case of skin cancer. Some patients cannot undergo surgery. Sometimes, surgery cannot remove all of the cancer, and more treatment is used to help get rid of the cancer. If the skin cancer is caught very early, surgery may not be necessary.

Other treatments for skin cancer are:

  • Immunotherapy: This treatment uses the patient’s own immune system to fight the cancer. The patient applies a cream (generic name is imiquimod) to the skin as directed by the dermatologist.
  • Cryosurgery: The dermatologist freezes the skin cancer. Freezing destroys the treated area, causing the skin and cancer cells to slough off.
  • Chemotherapy applied to the skin: The generic name for the medicine used in this treatment is 5-fluorouracil or 5-FU. The patient applies 5-FU to the skin cancer. It destroys the damaged skin cells. When the skin heals, new skin appears.
  • Chemotherapy: If the cancer spreads beyond the skin, chemotherapy may kill the cancer cells. When a patient gets chemotherapy, the patient takes medicine. This medicine may be swallowed, injected (shots), or infused (given with an IV). The medicine travels throughout the body and kills the cancer cells. The medicine also destroys some normal cells. This can cause side effects, such as vomiting and hair loss. When chemotherapy stops, the side effects usually disappear.
  • Photodynamic therapy: This treatment consists of 2 phases. First, a chemical is applied to the skin cancer. This chemical sits on the skin cancer for several hours. During the second phase, the skin cancer is exposed to a special light. This light destroys the cancer cells.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation may be used to treat older adults who have a large skin cancer, skin cancers that cover a large area, or a skin cancer that is difficult to surgically remove. Radiation therapy gradually destroys the cancer cells through repeat exposure to radiation. A patient may receive 15 to 30 treatments. This treatment is often only recommended for older adults. Many years after a person is exposed to radiation, new skin cancer can develop.

 

What outcome can someone with skin cancer expect?

If it is caught early and properly treated, skin cancer can be cured. Even melanoma, which can be deadly, has a cure rate of almost 100 percent when treated early.

Even if you get a clean bill of health, you need to continue to see your dermatologist. Once a person gets skin cancer, the risk of getting another skin cancer is higher. Sometimes skin cancer returns. Your dermatologist will tell you how often you should return for checkups.

Without early treatment, the outcome is not as favorable. Skin cancer can grow deeply. Removing the cancer can mean removing muscle and even bone. Reconstructive surgery may be needed after the surgery to remove the skin cancer. And skin cancer can spread.

If the cancer spreads, treatment can be difficult. Treatment may not cure cancer that spreads.

 

If you would like an appointment with one of our providers to evaluate a possible skin condition, please CONTACT US to schedule your appointment or call us at (305) 856-6555.


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COVID-19 Update
As we reopen our offices your health and safety is our number one priority. We follow Centers for Disease Control guidelines for infection control and social distancing to protect our patients and our team members. During your visit you will see patients and team members wearing masks, other protective equipment as needed, and find a new patient experience that maximizes contactless processes. We are practicing social distancing with new office layouts, modified schedules to include TeleHealth services, and controlled flow of people in the office locations. In addition, we use EPA approved disinfectants before and after every patient interaction, and conduct hospital grade disinfection to the entire office on a regular basis. These steps work together to ensure a pleasant, safe experience at Riverchase; we look forward to seeing you soon!
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