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What Is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer. It can be found in any area of the body, but a large number of them occur in exposed parts of the body e.g. face, neck, arms, and hands. Anybody can get skin cancer, but it is most common in Caucasians. Ultraviolet rays from the sun, sunlamps, and tanning booths are primary reasons for skin cancer.

What Are the Types of Skin Cancer?

  • Basal cell carcinoma is the most common, but also the least dangerous kind. It rarely spreads to distant places. When left untreated, it continues to destroy local tissue all the way down to the bone.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma is the next most common type of skin cancer. It can spread to distant sites. When left untreated, it can be fatal.
  • Malignant melanoma is becoming more common, especially in the Sunbelt area. Melanoma can come in many shapes and sizes. When treated in the early stages, the cure is complete. Melanoma can spread to distant sites through the lymph glands.
  • Actinic keratoses are rough, scaly, reddish or brownish patches. Sometimes they develop into squamous cell carcinoma.
  • Moles are generally pigmented, flat, or raised. Some moles with irregular shape and pigment may develop into melanoma. Some moles are removed for cosmetic reasons.

How Is Skin Cancer Treated?

It is important to have the doctor examine the particular lesion and recommend the appropriate treatment. Treatment options are observation, local creams (Efudex), curettage, heat or cold desiccation and, of course, surgery. Small lesions can be removed under local anesthesia in the physician’s office. Final pathological analysis dictates any further treatment.

Often, larger lesions are removed in day surgery clinics under local or sedation anesthesia. Mohs chemosurgery or multiple frozen sections are undertaken until all cancer is removed. Depending on the size and location of the defect, the repair can be a small scar, local flaps, skin grafts, etc.

It is very important to have regular follow-ups to detect any local recurrence of cancer. Generally, it is recommended to have check-ups every six months. You will be advised to avoid sun exposure, wear sun protective hats and garments, and above all, use good sunscreens for the rest of your life.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the signs of skin cancer?

Skin cancer is highly treatable when caught early. It is important to visit your dermatologist regularly, along with checking your skin for any abnormalities.

When checking your skin for cancer, you want to look for:

  • Any new spots or bumps that are changing in color or size
  • A mole with uneven borders that is changing in shape, size, or color
  • Raised growths or lumps
  • Red, patchy skin

If you notice any of these symptoms, let your dermatologist know right away.

How can I reduce my risk of getting skin cancer? 

The sun’s UV rays are damaging to the skin. To reduce your risk of skin cancer, you should stay out of the sun as much as possible and avoid tanning beds. If you have to be in the sun, wearing protective clothing, such as long-sleeve shirts, pants, and hats, can help reduce your risk of skin cancer. Doctors recommend wearing protective sunscreen every day on exposed areas of the skin.

Is skin cancer painful?

Skin cancer is not always painful. The cancer is usually detected and treated before it reaches the point of pain. You should not wait until you are in pain to treat skin cancer. If left untreated, some types of skin cancer can bleed, itch, and hurt.

Who is at risk for skin cancer? 

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States and can affect people of all ages. People that are more at risk for skin cancer are those who:

  • Have light skin that burns and freckles easily
  • Spend a significant amount of time in the sun
  • Do not use sunscreen
  • Have a family history of skin cancer
  • Have blonde or red hair

Does skin cancer surgery hurt? 

Skin cancer surgery can be painful, but local anesthesia is used to ensure your comfort throughout the procedure. During your recovery, the treated skin may be irritated and sore. Over-the-counter pain medication can be used to combat the pain. In some cases, pain medication may be prescribed.