May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and it’s the perfect time to educate yourself on the facts associated with this extremely common cancer. More people in the US are diagnosed with skin cancer each year than all other cancers combined, with one in five Americans developing skin cancer at some point in their lives. With almost 10,000 new diagnoses every day in the US, Dermatology Realm believes that knowledge is power and prevention is key. Keep reading to learn more about skin cancer awareness, what you need to know about how it’s treated, and what we can do to help minimize scarring!
What is skin cancer?
Put simply, skin cancer is an abnormal growth of skin cells. It is one of the most common cancers, and also one of the most preventable. There are multiple types of skin cancer, all of which can potentially be treated if found early enough. If skin cancers are not diagnosed in the early stages, they can spread to other parts of the body and become more difficult to treat successfully. The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
Basal Cell Carcinoma, or BCC, is the most common cancer in the world. It can occur in all skin tones, although it’s seen most often in individuals with fair skin. BCC will typically show up as a flesh-colored round growth, pearly bump, or a pink-tinted patch of skin. It tends to grow quite slowly and rarely spreads to the inside of the body. However, it is still important for BCC to be diagnosed and treated, as it can become locally aggressive and destructive given enough time.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma, or SCC, is the second most common form of skin cancer. It generally appears as a pink patch of skin that is dry and scaly, but may also take the form of a pinkish bump. SCC is relatively well-behaved for cancer, but it does tend to be a bit more aggressive than basal cell carcinoma. It is also capable of spreading to other parts of the body over time if left untreated.
Melanoma has a tendency to spread more rapidly than SCC or BCC, but if it’s detected early, it’s highly treatable with positive outcomes. Melanoma can appear suddenly or develop within an existing mole. It will often display with the following features:
- border irregularity
- color (usually multiple colors present within the same growth)
- and evolution (the area changes over time)
What causes skin cancer?
There are many possible causes for skin cancer, but cumulative sun exposure is the most common factor associated with its development. Some skin cancers can be hereditary and may occur more commonly in certain families. It is also more common for fair-skinned people to develop skin cancer when compared to those with darker skin tones. Some other possible risk factors include tanning bed use, smoking, prior X-ray treatment, certain kinds of trauma, immunosuppression, and exposure to some types of chemicals.
What are the signs of skin cancer?
The signs of skin cancer are variable and sometimes unpredictable. However, there are a few things you can look out for, including any new moles or changes in the size, shape, color, or border of any existing ones. A dermatology professional will also be able to map your moles and keep track of them through regular examinations. You should conduct your own self-examinations as well, and let your doctor know if you notice any changes that concern you.
How dangerous is skin cancer?
Compared to other types of cancer, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma tend to grow slowly at the point of origin and don’t often spread to other parts of the body. However, they can cause problems if left untreated over time. This may include pain, bleeding, localized destruction of tissue, distant spread, and even death.
Melanoma can be life-threatening if it is not diagnosed and treated early enough. It will usually appear as a dark brown or black spot on the skin or mole which then enlarges, grows, or changes in some other way. It is very important to monitor existing moles for changes in texture, color, and border, as melanoma can develop on normal moles that have been present for years.
How is skin cancer treated?
The treatment for skin cancer will vary from case to case. Depending on the type of skin cancer detected, it may involve surgical excision, Mohs micrographic surgery, cryosurgery, electrodesiccation, or a curettage procedure. Each of these methods removes the skin cancer itself along with any other cells that are affected. These treatments have varying levels of invasiveness and recovery times, which is why we encourage everyone to practice prevention!
Prevention is the most effective way to guard yourself against skin cancer. Proper protection from harmful UV rays is the best place to start, which means
- wearing SPF 50 or higher when outside
- reapplying sunscreen every 3 hours
- wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sun shirt
- staying inside during midday hours when the sun is most intense
- seeking shade when possible
- avoiding tanning beds and booths
Annual skin cancer screenings are another important way to care for your skin. These are especially important for those with fair skin, light hair, and blue or green eyes, as well as anyone who has previously had skin cancer.
Treatment options for skin cancer scarring
Unfortunately, many of us didn’t understand the dangers of unprotected skin and indoor tanning beds until it was too late. So what happens if you are diagnosed with skin cancer and are left with scarring after it’s been treated? Many patients are unhappy with the appearance of the area where skin cancer has been removed, but the good news is, scars don’t have to be permanent anymore! We offer the following treatments to reduce or eliminate scarring.
This laser treatment works by creating a grid of pinpoint laser beams that zap tiny spots on your skin, producing thousands of tiny but deep columns in your skin. As your skin naturally repairs itself, new collagen will grow into those columns, replacing the dead and damaged tissue. The old skin will flake away, revealing newer, more radiant skin!
Dermatology Realm is one of the only practices in the Mid-South to offer the MicroLaserPeel! This special peel uses a precision laser to remove the outermost layers of your skin. It’s typically repeated two to four times, spaced six to eight weeks apart, but it can be continued until you get the results you’re looking for.
This FDA-cleared treatment gently resurfaces your skin over the span of 4-5 treatments. It tightens loose skin, improves skin texture, and reduces the appearance of mild to moderate wrinkles. It also helps to reduce the appearance of scarring and stretch marks.
Take care of your skin with the expert team at Dermatology Realm
May might be Skin Cancer Awareness Month, but it’s important to take care of your skin all year long! For more information on the services we offer, get in touch to schedule a consultation. We’d love to hear from you!