What Is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is the type of cancer most commonly found in humans. There are three types, including melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. The main cause of skin cancer is ultraviolet light, most commonly due to prolonged exposure to the sun.
Melanoma is usually considered the most serious skin cancer, since it can spread or metastasize throughout the human body quickly.
It is important to note that skin cancer is not always deadly, and it can often be removed if it is detected and treated in a timely manner.
What Are the Symptoms of Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is often detected by noticing a change in some aspects of the skin. These may include:
- A sore that will not heal
- Changes in moles
- New skin growth
- Change in appearance of the skin
The non-melanoma type of skin cancer is usually curable. If these lesions were always brought to a doctor’s attention before they spread, the cure rate could even be close to 100%.
Preventing Skin Cancer
The best way to lower the risk of skin cancer is to avoid exposure to the sun. Self-examination and regular physical examinations will help those in higher risk groups to detect skin cancer early. If you’ve had any type of skin cancer already, you should be checked on a regular basis.
How is Melanoma Skin Cancer Treated?
If you have been diagnosed with melanoma, your cancer team will talk over the various options of treatment with you. Depending on the seriousness of your disease, you may have various types of physicians on your cancer treatment team. They may include:
- A surgical oncologist, who treats cancer with surgery
- A dermatologist who treats skin diseases
- A radiation oncologist who uses radiation to treat cancer
- A medical oncologist who uses immunotherapy or chemotherapy to treat cancer
Melanomas caught in their early stages are often treated quite effectively with just surgery, but cancers that are more advanced may require other types of treatment, or a combination of treatment types. Surgery is the most often used treatment for many melanomas and will usually cure an early stage melanoma.
Thin melanomas can generally be cured completely with a simple excision. The tumor will be cut out, along with skin around the edges that have not been affected by cancer. This normal skin is termed a margin. Simple excision is not the same as an excision biopsy.
Checking for Metastasizing Cancer
Sometimes, lymph nodes are dissected, from the area near the melanoma. This is done to check and ensure that the cancer has not travelled to nearby areas.
If melanoma is diagnosed from a skin biopsy, your doctor will examine those lymph nodes that are closest to the melanoma. This may be done physically, or by using imaging tests.
If lymph nodes nearby are involved, or an excision biopsy discovers melanoma in the nodes, those lymph nodes will usually be dissected. If the nodes are not enlarged, a sentinel node biopsy may need to be performed.
If sentinel nodes do not show cancer, the melanoma has not likely spread. If the sentinel node is cancerous, the other lymph nodes in that general area are usually dissected. Dissecting lymph nodes may not cure melanomas that have spread, although this issue is still being studied.
How is Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer Treated?
According to the American Cancer Society, treating nonmelanoma depends on its location and type. There may be scarring risks, and the health and age of each patient are important.
Your treatment options for non-melanoma include:
- Radiation therapy
Other options may include:
- Targeted therapy
If you have questions about treatment for skin cancer contact your local doctor, who will arrange for you to see a Dermatologist.