Skin cancer is the most common cancer. Approximately one in five people will be diagnosed with skin cancer at some point in their life. Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma are the most common forms of skin cancer. Each has different levels of severity and invasiveness, yet all are treatable when caught early. In Huntington, NY, Dr. Roger Koreen of the Dermatology and Cosmetic Laser Center encourages early detection of skin cancer and offers treatments.
Routine skin checks
Skin cancer is visible. Patients should perform monthly skin checks to watch for changes in their skin. Changes can occur quickly, making early detection a key to successful skin cancer treatments. The earlier a problem is found, the better the chances of treating it. During skin checks, use the ABCDE rule to track skin cancer signs.
- Asymmetry – The two sides of a mole should match. If they do not, they are asymmetrical and should be checked.
- Border – Check the border or edges of moles. A benign mole is smooth around the border. A cancerous one has uneven, bumpy edges.
- Color – Benign moles are generally a single color. Malignant moles may have multiple colors of brown, black or tan. They may also appear to be red, white, or blue.
- Diameter – Any mole larger than 6mm or the size of an average pencil eraser should be checked by a physician.
- Evolving – Benign moles do not change. Malignant ones may evolve in size, shape, or color.
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Diagnosing skin cancer
Most skin cancer is caused by ultraviolet radiation which damages the DNA in skin cells. There are three common forms of skin cancer.
- Basal cell carcinoma appears as irregular lesions on the epidermis. They often appear to be open sores, red patches, growths, shiny bumps, or scars.
- Squamous cell carcinoma may look like an open sore, scaly red patch, raised growth with a depression in the middle, or wart. These lesions may crust and bleed but do not heal. They may become disfiguring or deadly if left untreated.
- Melanomas are the most dangerous form of skin cancer. They often appear to be moles or may stem from existing moles. When caught early, melanomas are treatable. Untreated, the cancer can spread to other parts of the body.
All potentially cancerous skin abnormalities must be biopsied to confirm a cancer diagnosis. Depending on the suspected type of cancer, the technique used for the biopsy may vary slightly. If a non-melanoma cancer such as a basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma is suspected, a smaller biopsy is performed. Part or all of the growth may be removed for a biopsy to make an accurate diagnosis.
If melanoma is suspected, the entire growth is surgically removed with a scalpel. A pathologist examines the sample to determine if the whole growth was removed or if cancer cells are still present. Patients with a melanoma diagnosis may need other tests to see if the cancer has spread. This may include a CT scan, MRI, PET scan, bone scan, or chest x-ray. Biopsies of the lymph nodes may be needed too.
Skin cancer treatments
Once skin cancer is diagnosed, medical care is required. Skin cancer is visible, meaning it is often detected before it has a chance to spread. When caught early, the majority of skin cancers are treatable. Standard treatments for basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas that have not spread are safe and effective with minimal side effects. Small growths can be surgically excised, removed by skin scraping or cauterization, or frozen with liquid nitrogen. Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas that have spread and melanomas may require more in-depth removal and treatments.
Anyone who has had skin cancer is at risk of getting it again. Patients should see a dermatologist at least twice per year for a skin check. Approximately 20 percent of skin cancer patients experience a recurrence or separate growth within a couple years of the original diagnosis. It is important to be vigilant and responsible in your skin checks.
If you see a suspicious mole or spot on your skin, visit your dermatologist right away. Most skin cancers are treatable when caught early. Contact Dr. Koreen and the team at the Dermatology and Cosmetic Laser Center today for skin cancer treatments. Call (631) 417-3300.