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Skin cancer affects one out of every five Americans.
While skin cancer is easily treatable when it is diagnosed early, it can spread and become more serious—or even fatal—if the signs are disregarded.
What Are the Types of Skin Cancer?
Not all skin cancer is the same. There are three main divisions of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
- Basal cell carcinoma is caused by the uncontrolled growth and division of the basal cells (cells from the lower part of the epidermis that produce new skin cells). These are most often found on the face, neck, ears, shoulders, and back.
- Squamous cell carcinoma is caused by the uncontrolled growth and division of the squamous cells (cells from the outermost part of the epidermis that play a role in osmosis, diffusion, and filtration). These cancers are commonly found on the face, neck, ears, and scalp.
- Melanoma is caused by the uncontrolled growth of the melanocytes (the cells that produce pigment). This is the most severe form of skin cancer and can spread quickly if not treated.
What Are the Causes of Skin Cancer?
While the development of skin cancer can be influenced by genetics, moles, and lifestyle choices, it is most commonly attributed to being exposed to UV radiation.
Ultraviolet rays due to sun exposure or tanning beds damage your DNA and alter the way that your cells reproduce, grow, and divide. Skin cancer can develop when the growth of these cells is not kept in check.
How Can I Identify Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is commonly identified and diagnosed by changes in your skin or moles.
For basal cell carcinoma, watch out for:
- Open sores that do not heal
- Shiny bumps or nodules
- Slightly raised, pink growths
- Reddish patches
For squamous cell carcinoma, watch out for:
- Crusty skin sores
- Thick, rough, or scaly patches
- Open wounds or warts that do not heal
For melanoma, watch out for moles or skin patches that follow the ABCDEs:
- Asymmetry (half of the mole does not match the other)
- Border (uneven or ragged borders)
- Color (more than one shade)
- Diameter (larger than six millimeters)
- Evolving (moles that grow or change in appearance)
How Can I Treat Skin Cancer?
There are several tissue removal options that can treat skin cancer—including melanoma. These techniques remove the visible tumor as well as a margin (a buffer rim of tissue around the cancerous cells).
Unfortunately, these excision techniques result in scarring, which may be visible if the cancer is located in an exposed area like the face, neck, hands, or arms.
While there is no way to eliminate scarring, some techniques can reduce the amount of scarring. One of these techniques is Mohs surgery.
Mohs surgery is a conservative but highly effective skin cancer treatment that removes cancerous tissue layer by layer (as opposed to the “chunk” of tissue that is removed with many other techniques).
By removing the tissue in layers, there is no unnecessary damage to the surrounding tissues, and this allows for better aesthetics and a more comfortable recovery.
Once the skin cancer has been removed, the surrounding edges can be pulled together and sutured or covered with a skin graft.