Do you know the skin is the largest organ in the human body?
Not only does the skin provide a protective barrier against heat and cold, but it also provides protection against light and infection.
The skin consists of 2 layers, along with numerous types of cells:
the epidermis (the top or outer layer of the skin): The epidermis is comprised of 3 types of cells— flat & scaly surface cells called squamous cells; round cells called basal cells; and melanocytes, which give skin its color and also protect against skin damage.
the dermis (the inner layer of the skin): This layer contains the nerves, sweat glands, and blood vessels.
What is Skin Cancer? What are the Different Types of Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is diagnosed when malignant (cancerous) cells are found within the outer layers of the skin. We will discuss the 3 most common types of skin cancers.
1. Basal Cell Carcinoma
The most common type of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma, a non-melanoma skin cancer. Actually, 70% of all skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas. It usually appears in the form of a small raised bump with a pearly appearance, typically appearing on overly sun-exposed skin. Basal cell carcinomas can spread to the skin surrounding them, however, they rarely spread to other parts of the body.
2. Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma, a non-melanoma skin cancer, can be seen on the overly sun-exposed parts of the body— hands, forehead, lower lip, nose. This type of skin cancer appears in the form of a firm, red bump, or an ulceration of the skin that will not heal. Unfortunately, squamous cell carcinomas can spread to the lymph nodes around the area. Twenty percent of all skin cancers are squamous cell carcinomas.
Melanoma is a malignant skin cancer that arises from the melanocytes in the skin.
Melanoma makes up 5% of all skin cancers.
Melanoma is less common than basal cell or squamous cell cancers.
The melanocytes give the skin its color. Melanoma occurs in the form of pigmented (colored) lesions in the skin. The lesions can have an irregular shape, multiple colors, and an irregular border.
Melanoma is the most harmful of all skin cancers. This is because it can spread to the lymph nodes or other sites in the body.
Fortunately, most melanomas have a very high cure rate if they are diagnosed and treated early on.
What Causes Skin Cancer?
According to much scientific evidence, UV radiation from the sun is a cause for most types of skin cancer. Family history also plays an important role, especially with melanoma. Most of the skin cancers occur on overexposed, sun-exposed areas of skin; the lighter your skin type, the more susceptible you are to UV damage and to skin cancer.
How is Skin Cancer Diagnosed? What are the Early Signs of Skin Cancer?
If it is diagnosed and treated early on, the vast majority of skin cancers can be cured. It is always best to protect your skin from sun damage as much as possible.
Also, you should be aware of the early signs of skin cancer, including:
Bumps or nodules in the skin which become enlarged
Skin sores that do not heal
Changes in existing moles or birthmarks (changes in color, size, or texture)
If you or a loved one notices any of these signs, schedule an appointment with one of our doctors right away.
A biopsy can be taken if you have a spot or a lump on your skin. Performed in the office, the biopsy will allow our ENT doctors to remove the growth and examine the tissue underneath a microscope. The biopsy usually involves numbing of the skin with a local anesthetic. The results can indicate if the skin lesion is a cancer (malignancy).
How to Treat Skin Cancer
There are 3 ways to treat skin cancer:
The treatment prescribed will depend upon the type and size of cancer, your overall health, and your age.
Surgery to Treat Skin Cancer
This is the most common form of skin cancer treatment. Surgery can be performed in-office or as an outpatient procedure.
The purpose of the surgery is to remove the lesion and to check the edges to make sure all cancer has been removed.
Mohs surgery is typically performed for basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. This type of surgery provides the best chance to include all margins and to minimize the size of the defect.
Simple stitches can be used in some cases to repair the site. Sometimes it is needed for the doctor to take skin from elsewhere in order to cover the wound and promote healing. This is dependent upon the size of the defect, though.
A sentinel lymph node biopsy may be needed for melanoma treatment. This is a biopsy of the lymph node with the highest chance of having tiny metastatic cancer cells. If the biopsy is positive, more lymph nodes might be removed.
Radiation Therapy for Skin Cancer Treatment
There are times when radiation therapy is needed as the sole treatment for skin cancer or treatment after surgery. This depends on the patient’s situation.
Chemotherapy Skin Cancer Treatment
For non-melanoma skin cancers: chemotherapy is not needed as a primary therapy. Chemotherapy’s use after surgery is still controversial, too.
For melanomas, chemotherapy and certain medications that modulate the immune system may be used in more advanced skin care cases.
Are You at Risk for Skin Cancer?
If you have any of the factors listed below, you may be at a higher risk of developing skin cancer. In these cases, be careful about sun exposure.
Family history of skin cancer, especially melanoma
Use of indoor tanning facilities and devices
Long-term sun exposure
Fair skin (typically those with blonde or red hair with freckles)
Severe sunburns as a child
Non-healing ulcers or nodules in/on the skin
Presence of moles— be vigilant about uneven coloring, irregular edges, or a size increase of the mole
Place of residence— increased risk for those living in southern climates
How to Lower Your Risk of Skin Cancer
The most important thing you can do is avoid direct sun exposure. The ultraviolet radiation (UV rays) produced by sunlight can damage the DNA cells in the skin.
If you work outdoors, you are at the highest risk of developing skin cancer. Be very careful between the hours of 10am to 2pm when the sun’s rays are the most powerful. If you have to work outdoors, wear protective clothing that covers as much of your skin as possible (wide-brimmed hat to block the sun from your scalp, face, neck, and ears).
Use sunscreen. Select a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. If you live in the southern U.S. regions, use SPF 30 or higher during the summer and when you intend to be in the sun for long periods of time. Apply the sunscreen before sun exposure and apply it to dry skin. If you sweat or get wet, you should reapply the sunscreen. Sunscreen will not block all of the damaging rays, but it will allow you to be in the sun longer without getting sunburn.
Recognize the early signs of skin trouble and skin cancer. You should perform self-examinations after you shower, while standing in front of a full-length mirror. Be aware of moles, birthmarks, and blemishes. Take note of sores that do not heal or new nodules on the skin.
If you notice a mole that changes in color, size, or texture, see a doctor right away.
If you notice anything unusual on your body, schedule an appointment with the doctor.
If you have a family history of skin cancer, especially melanoma, get an annual examination by the doctor. He or she will be able to diagnose skin cancer if you have it. Just remember: catching skin cancer early on can save your life.
What Should You Do Next?
If you think you may have skin cancer, then we encourage you to contact our Lawrenceville, GA ENT office, or our Johns Creek/Suwanee, GA ENT doctors. We can provide a diagnosis and treatment for your condition, so contact us today.