Premier Dermatology specializes in skin cancer prevention, early detection, and the most advanced skin cancer removal treatments.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. One out of five people will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime, which is more than all other cancers combined. In fact, the incidence of skin cancer is increasing with over half of all newly diagnosed cancers being skin cancers. The vast majority of skin cancers develop from excessive exposure of ultraviolet light (UV) such as sunlight or artificial UV as found in tanning beds and are more prevalent in fair skinned individuals. Besides UV exposure, other risk factors for developing skin cancer include skin tone, ethnicity, advancing age, family skin cancer history, genetics, frequency of sun burns, distance from the equator and altitude where one lives.
The most common type of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma (BCC), followed by squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) These “non-melanoma” skin cancers most often occur on the head and neck, where exposure to UV light is most common. Basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas are rarely life threatening if caught early and can be treated and cured with early detection. Malignant melanoma, generally referred to as melanoma, is the third most common form of skin cancer and the most serious of the common skin cancer varieties as it grows more aggressively and can metastasize (spread) to other organ systems.
What can I do to limit my chances of developing skin cancer?
In order to minimize the chances of developing skin cancer, one needs to limit direct exposure to UV light. To do this, wear protective clothing such as wide-brimmed hats, long-sleeved shirts or clothing with a SPF guard within the fabric. Apply sunscreen with at least a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 to sun-exposed areas. The frequency and quantity of sunscreen applied is critical in maintaining the sun protection factor advertised on the label. Sunscreen should be liberally applied using roughly a full shot glass worth of volume of liquid for the body. This volume should be reapplied every few hours or more often depending upon water exposure, sweating/activity and the type of sunscreen used.
Don’t forget the often overlooked areas such as the tops of the ears, the scalp, and the tops of the feet and hands. A high SPF lip balm is important to prevent skin cancer of the lips. Also, try to limit sun exposure during peak daylight hours of 10 AM to 4 PM. It is important to perform self-examinations to familiarize yourself with any existing spots, freckles or moles so that you know when you are developing a new spot or if one of your existing spots changes. If you find any area of concern or if any growth – flat or elevated – is new or changing, see a Board-Certified Dermatologist such as Dr. Brent Taylor. Periodic skin exams by a Board-Certified Dermatologist are the best way to diagnose skin cancer at its earliest stages.
What does skin cancer look like?
There are several forms of skin cancer, and they all present a bit differently. As a rule of thumb, any new spot that looks different from any existing mole or freckle that you currently have should be evaluated by a board certified dermatologist. If a spot changes suddenly, starts bleeding or becomes itchy, it warrants an evaluation by a board certified dermatologist. A dermatologist may use a specialized magnifying glass called a dermatoscope to help determine which growths are concerning. Here is a brief overview of how basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma often appear to the naked eye:
Melanoma: Dermatologists commonly talk about the ABCDE’s of melanoma. Melanomas often exhibit Asymmetry, Border irregularity, Color variation, Diameter larger than a pencil eraser, and Evolve (or change) over time. Please see the illustration below to better understand what each of these features looks like. It is important to understand the ABCDEs of melanoma and to perform regular self-exams to check for any changing spots. Melanoma is so dangerous that it can pose a serious threat to one’s health even before it has grown very large or looks very bad to the average person. There are also rare types of melanoma that aren’t even brown, black or dark at all. Remember the general rule that if a growth is changing or new and you are at all unsure what it is that you should schedule an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist.
Squamous cell carcinoma: This cancer typically appears as a hard or rough spot that is increasing in size. The surface can develop a “horn” – a small mound of hard or scaly material growing above the height of surrounding skin. Squamous cell carcinoma typically feels attached to the underlying skin. It can sometimes bleed spontaneously or with minimal trauma. The color can vary — squamous cell carcinomas are typically the color of normal skin but can be more pink, red, or brown than surrounding skin and, if neglected, can develop sores or ulcers. There are varieties of squamous cell carcinoma that have a different appearance – when in doubt about a spot or growth, see a board-certified dermatologist.
Basal cell carcinoma: This cancer comes in several varieties, and each of them looks different. The most common varieties are superficial BCC, nodular BCC, infiltrative BCC, and morpheaform BCC.
- A superficial BCC often looks like a pink flat spot that is gradually increasing in size. When looked at very closely, they often have an edge that is slightly raised. The shade of pink or red often varies within the growth so that the appearance can look disordered. Occasionally, small scabs or branching blood vessels are visible.
- A nodular BCC is typically much softer than a squamous cell carcinoma. They can range to mildly firm to outright “mushy.” Nodular BCC’s often grow in three-dimensions, growing up and out with time. They sometimes have a “rolled” edge, visible blood vessels that branch like the limbs and branches of a tree (“arborizing”), and often can bleed or form a sore more easily than healthy skin when the surface is picked, scratched or damaged.
- Infiltrative basal cell carcinoma can be harder to spot. Its appearance is often somewhere between that of a superficial and a nodular basal cell. Infiltrative basal cells grow just under the surface of the skin. They extend out and often grow to a fair size before people become aware of them. As a result, they often take multiple layers of Mohs surgery to clear. The skin over an infiltrative basal cell can be raised, bumpy, be pinker or redder than surrounding skin, and may bleed easily. When looking with the naked eye, it can be hard to tell where an infiltrating basal cell carcinoma starts and stops.
- Morpheaform basal cell carcinoma can be thought of as a variant of infiltrative basal cell carcinomas. Morpheaform basal cell carcinoma occur under the surface of the skin, but because morpheaform BCC’s cause collagen or scar formation around and throughout the tumor, a morpheaform BCC can be elevated, flat or even sunken. The microscopic scar tissue around a morpheaform BCC means that to the naked eye morpheaform BCC’s can look like a scar is appearing where someone never had surgery or an injury. The surface can be irregular, waxy, inflamed or red, firmer than surrounding skin. The moral of the story with morpheaform BCC is that a scar-like area or an area changing firmness, color or texture without any known reason needs attention from a dermatologist.