Understanding Skin Cancer

The leading cause of skin cancer is the sun. Chronic sun exposure and repeat sun burn as a child and adolescent leaves lasting damage long after the burn and tan have faded away. Repeated small doses of sun exposure can result in skin cancer twenty to forty years later.

There are three types of skin cancer. These cancers are most frequently found in fair skinned individuals. They include the most common – basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas and the least common type of skin caner – malignant melanoma.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

The most common form of skin cancer is known as basal cell carcinoma. Fortunately basal cell carcinoma can be cured by removal or destruction. It often begins with a tiny pink bump and is highly correlated with the amount of sun a person has been exposed to. Basal cell carcinoma may also appear as a shiny scar like area. Male patients often complain of a bump that is repeatedly nicked while shaving. It is persistent, grows slowly and may eventually bleed and break down.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Another fairly common type of skin cancer is called squamous cell carcinoma. It also arises in areas that have been frequently exposed to the sun such as the ears, face, neck, and the back of hands. It may appear as tender skin colored bumps or thick crusted areas that will not heal. It sometimes resembles and is misdiagnosed as dermatitis, eczema or “ring worm”.  Removal or destruction can often cure squamous cell carcinoma, however it does have the potential of invading the blood stream and metastasizing.

Malignant Melanoma

Although malignant melanoma is the least common form of skin cancer, it is being diagnosed more and more frequently. In fact, rates are approaching 1 in 64 for Caucasians. Malignant melanoma is often more aggressive than either basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma. It is often described as a dark colored spot that suddenly appears or a mole that begins to change shape, color and size. It can be a variety of shades of brown and/or pink and can be flat or raised. It is critical that malignant melanoma is removed as early as possible to ensure a cure.

Skin Cancer Treatments

Basal Cell and Squamous Cell Carcinoma can be treated through either surgery or a new non-invasive, non-surgical option known as Superficial Radiotherapy.

Topical chemotherapy, such as Aldara is also an option.

Malignant Melanoma must be treated by surgical removal.

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