Skin Cancer Treatment
in Denver, CO
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States and involves abnormal growths of skin cells that can form anywhere on the body, but most frequently appear on skin that is exposed to the sun. There are more than a million new cases of skin cancer in the US each year. Although most cases of skin cancer can be successfully treated, it is still important to keep skin safe and healthy and try to prevent this disease.
What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer occurs when the sun’s ultraviolet rays alter the genetic material in skin cells, causing them to mutate into cancer cells. Your degree of inherent protection can depend on the amount of melanin in your skin. Melanin is responsible for the pigment of our skin, and it acts as a protection against sun exposure. When our skin cells receive UV radiation, the melanin turns the skin a darker tone (tanning), as a protection mechanism.
That’s why fair-skinned people are more susceptible to skin cancer — they have less melanin in their skin. It’s estimated that up to half of all fair-skinned people who live to be at least 65 years old will develop at least one skin cancer in their lives.
How common is skin cancer?
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States with over 3 million people being diagnosed each year. Twenty percent of us will develop skin cancer sometime in our lives. The incidence of basal cell carcinoma has increased 145 percent since the 1970s; squamous cell carcinoma cases have increased 263 percent. Scariest of all — the American Cancer Society estimates that one million Americans are living with untreated melanoma.
Types of Skin Cancer
There are three major types of skin cancer that affect associated layers of the skin. These major types are:
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma affects the squamous cells, which are just below the outer surface of the skin and serve as the inner lining.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma affects the basal cells, which lay under the squamous cells and basal cells are responsible for producing new skin cells.
Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer and affects the melanocytes, which are the skin cells that produce melanin, a pigment designed to protect the skin from UV light.
What does skin cancer look like?
The different types of skin cancer have somewhat different appearances. Here are some general characteristics of the three main skin cancers:
- Basal cell carcinoma will look like a flesh-colored, pearl-like bump or a pinkish patch of skin.
- Squamous cell carcinoma will look like a red firm bump, scaly patch, or a sore that heals and then re-opens.
- Melanoma will appear as a new dark spot or area on the skin. It can also develop in a mole.
Causes of Skin Cancer
Every day, skin cells die and new ones form to replace them in a process controlled by DNA. Skin cancer can form when this process does not work properly because of damage to DNA. New cells may form when they are not needed or older cells may not die. This can cause a growth of tissue known as a tumor. DNA damage is often a result of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or tanning lamps. Since skin cancer can sometimes affect areas not exposed to the sun, heredity may also be a factor.
Certain factors, such as fair skin, moles, a weakened immune system, and age, certain medications can also increase the risk of skin cancer.
Signs and Symptoms of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer can often be identified as a new or changed growth on the skin that may often occur on the scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms, hands, or legs. The appearance of the growth depends on the type of cancer, but can appear as:
- Pearly or waxy bump
- Flesh-colored or brown scar-like lesion
- Firm, red nodule
- Crusted, flat lesion
- Large brown spot with darker speckles
- A mole that changes shape or color
- Shiny, firm bumps
What signs should I look for to spot melanoma?
Since melanoma is the form of skin cancer that is far and away from the deadliest, it’s a good idea to always be on the lookout on your own. With melanoma, you can follow the ABCDE warning signs:
- Asymmetry — If one half of the mole doesn’t match the other half, that’s a concern. Normal moles are symmetrical.
- Border — If the border or edges of your mole are ragged, blurred, or irregular, it should be checked.
- Color — Normal moles are a single shade throughout. If your mole has changed color or if it has different shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white, or red, then it should be checked.
- Diameter — If a mole is larger than the eraser of a pencil, it needs to be checked.
- Evolving — If a mole evolves by shrinking, growing larger, changing color, itching or bleeding, or other changes, it should be checked. Melanoma lesions often grow in size or gain height rapidly.
Diagnosis of Skin Cancer
It is important to see your dermatologist if you notice any skin changes. Dermatologists are very skilled at examining the skin for suspicious processes. Early detection is valuable in successfully treating skin cancer. Regular full-body screening is recommended as well. A biopsy is usually performed to properly diagnose suspected abnormal or cancerous growths. A dermatologist's skill is at routine skin exam and noticing abnormal growths; Dr. Bershof 5280 Top Doctor Skin Cancer is skilled at removing the abnormal or cancerous growth once it has been suspected or diagnosed.
Treatment of Skin Cancer
Treatment for skin cancer depends on the type, size, and location of the tumor. Most options remove the entire growth and are usually effective. Some of these options listed below are performed by the dermatologist; Dr. Bershof is referred too, for complete surgical excision. Removal procedures are usually simple and require only a local anesthetic in an outpatient setting. Some of the treatment options for skin cancer include:
Freezing, also known as cryosurgery, performed by the dermatologist, kills abnormal tissues by freezing them with liquid nitrogen.
The abnormal tissue, as well as some surrounding healthy tissue, is cut out of the skin. If the lesion is large, or on the face, or the patient otherwise desires a plastic surgeon to perform the excision, Dr. Bershof would be glad to see you in consultation. Many dermatologists refer their patients to Dr. Bershof for surgical excision.
Laser therapy destroys cancerous growths with little damage to surrounding tissue and few side effects. Some dermatologists will use a laser.
Chemotherapy under the care of a dermatologist uses topical drugs to kill cancer and pre-cancer cells, which may be applied through creams or lotions for top layer tumors.
Frozen Sections/Mohs Surgery
Frozen sections and Mohs surgery are two similar techniques used in order to remove skin cancers and check the margins (the edges) while the cancer is being removed. The accuracy of frozen sections & Mohs are similar, but keep in mind they are both techniques that only remove cancer, not to close the subsequent hole that is made. The advantage of frozen sections over Mohs is that once the hole is made, the plastic surgeon using frozen sections closes the hole rather than the Mohs dermatologist closing the hole. Dr. Bershof 5280 Top Doctor Skin Cancer is known for his skin cancer surgery and melanoma surgery. Plastic surgeons close cancer holes better than Mohs dermatologists. It's that simple.
How is recovery after skin cancer surgery?
As discussed above, most of these surgeries can be quite small, requiring little, if any, recovery. Larger incisions will require care to avoid pressure or impact on the incision. For the most part, these are not difficult recoveries.
What are the potential risks of skin cancer surgery?
The risks of skin cancer surgery are low, especially for minor removal of basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. That’s because the incisions required are usually pretty small. Obviously, there is always a risk of infection, but If you keep the small wound clean that is low.
The main risk is scarring or disfigurement if the cancer is removed from an area such as the nose or eyelid. That’s where the expertise of a board-certified plastic surgeon such as Dr. Bershof comes into play. Whereas a dermatologist or Mohs surgeon will be able to remove all of the cancerous cells, they aren’t as adept at the cosmetic final appearance of the area of the surgery. Dr. Bershof’s training and experience with these surgeries can help ensure your final appearance is much more aesthetically pleasing.
Alternate Skin Cancer Treatment Options
Other treatment options are also available, including new methods that are currently being studied.
Although most treatment for skin cancer is successful, new tumors can still form. It is important to practice preventive measures and see your dermatologist on a regular basis. You can also perform self-skin checks to spot any changes as soon as possible. If your dermatologist diagnoses an abnormal lesion, an abnormal mole, or skin cancer, Dr. Bershof would be happy to consult with you and your dermatologist in consultation.
What are the survival rates for the three most common skin cancers?
Any form of cancer involves stages. The higher the stage the less likely you will beat cancer and survive. That’s why it’s so important to have a dermatologist diagnose skin cancer early when it is stage 0 or 1.
- Melanoma is deadly when it metastasizes, but it’s very curable in its early stages. The five-year survival guide for melanoma stages 0, 1, and 2 is 98.4 percent. The five-year survival rate for stage 3 melanoma is 63.6 percent. Stage 4 melanoma has only a 22.5 percent survival rate.
- Basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma both have very high survival rates. Since they grow quite slowly, there is little information by stages. The five-year survival rate for all basal cell carcinomas is 100 percent. The five-year survival rate for squamous cell carcinoma is 95 percent.
Can tanning beds cause skin cancer?
Some people think tanning beds are a safe alternative to natural sunlight. Wrong. The tanning they create is the same damage to the skin that the sun is creating. In fact, tanning bed use is proven to raise the risk of developing all skin cancers. Research has shown that in women diagnosed with melanoma before the age of 30, 97 percent had used tanning beds. It’s actually thought that the UVA rays used in tanning beds are likely to increase a person’s risk of developing melanoma.
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