Skin Cancer

About Skin Cancer

Three types of skin cancer account for over 90% of all skin cancers.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common, accounting for about 80% of all skin cancers. It is a slowly-growing cancer, which does not tend to metastasize, but can cause destruction of skin, muscle, cartilage, and even bone tissue. BCC begins as a persistently pink or pearly white area, which may break down to form an ulcer or bleed.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common skin cancer (about 16% of skin cancers). SCC grows more quickly than BCC and may spread (metastasize) to lymph nodes and internal organs, sometimes causing death. Squamous cell cancers begin as raised red scaly areas which persist over months.

Melanoma is the least common (4%), but most aggressive type of skin cancer. Family members of those who have had melanoma and individuals who have had a number of severe or blistering sunburns during childhood appear to have an increased risk of developing melanoma. The prognosis depends upon the melanoma’s depth or thickness. Thin melanomas can be easily cured by surgery alone; deep melanomas are harder to remove and may already have metastasized to internal organs when discovered. Melanoma and death from melanoma are increasing every year. Melanoma can begin in a pre-existing mole or may arise as a new brown (pigmented) lesion. Usually melanomas have an irregular shape, ill-defined borders, and variable color (brown, blue, red, white, black, or a combination of these colors).

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is a condition where abnormal skin cells grow in a disorganized fashion, invade the surrounding tissue and disrupt normal tissue function

Skin cancer is highly treatable if detected early.

cancer cells

Invasion of tumor cell into normal tissue

How common is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in humans and occurs more often than all other malignancies combined. . According to the American Cancer Society, well over 1,000,000 new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed this year in the United States alone. The incidence of skin cancer increases annually. This type of cancer is highly treatable when it is diagnosed in its early stages, and it is usually relatively easy to diagnose.

What causes skin cancer?

The largest factor causing skin cancer is ultraviolet radiation found in sunlight. Most skin cancers occur on the sun-exposed parts of the body: the head, neck, arms, and hands. An individual’s risk of skin cancer depends upon many factors. Fair-skinned people who sunburn easily are at greater risk than those who are dark and tan easily. Outdoor occupations and long hours of outdoor recreation are also associated with a greater tendency to form skin cancer. Skin cancers may also occur because of genetic syndromes or exposure to X-rays, coal tar, or chemicals such as arsenic. Immunosuppression, which decreases the immune system’s ability to perform surveillance for malignant cells, can also contribute to skin cancer development. Immunosuppression is caused by HIV infection, lymphoma, and medications, such as cyclosporine, mycophenolate mofetil, azathiaprine, prednisone, mercaptopurine, and sirolimus.

Skin Cancer Treatment

For primary, untreated non-melanoma skin cancers, non-Mohs surgery methods may offer cure rates of 80-95%. For recurrent, previously treated skin cancers, non-Mohs surgery methods may offer cure rates of only 60-80%.

There are four goals when treating skin cancer:

  1. Completely remove the skin cancer
  2. Preserve normal skin
  3. Preserve function
  4. Provide an optimal cosmetic result

To be cured, skin cancers must be destroyed or removed. They may be treated by:

  • cryotherapy (freezing)
  • curettage and electrodesiccation (scraping and burning with an electric needle)
  • excision (surgical removal)
  • photodynamic therapy
  • imiquimod (Aldara)
  • interferon injections
  • radiation therapy
  • Mohs Micrographic Surgery