Every type of cancer is a cause for concern if you don’t treat it. Skin cancer is no different. Your best chance of winning a battle against skin cancer is to discover it in its early stages. At that point, you may not even need any invasive treatments. So keep your regularly scheduled doctor appointments and schedule a consultation with a dermatologist at Century Medical and Dental Center in Brooklyn, especially if you spend a lot of time outdoors.
A cancer diagnosis refers to any abnormal growth of cells, including skin cells. These abnormalities often develop on skin exposed to the sun, but they can also appear on areas that normally aren’t exposed to the sun. The exact cause for skin cancer isn’t known. Carefully monitoring your skin and getting early treatment helps enhance your chances for a successful cure.
Your symptoms and history, along with biopsies and a careful physical examination, provides your Century Medical and Dental Center top dermatologist the best clues for treating your skin cancer. Three major types of skin cancer exist:
Symptoms of Skin Cancer
Each type of skin cancer develops slightly different symptoms. Keep close check on areas that see sunshine, as well as those areas that you don’t think would be affected. Consider your ears, face, neck, lips, exposed scalp, chest, arms, legs and hands in danger, but also monitor the palms of your hands, soles of your feet, groin, genitals and even beneath your fingernails and toenails.
- Melanoma symptoms show up as small lesions with irregular borders, changing moles, large brownish patches with darker spots, painful lesions or dark, itchy or burning lesions in the lining of your nose, mouth, anus or vagina.
- Basal cell carcinoma often appears as a pearl-like, waxy bump or a flat lesion either brown or the color of your skin that resembles a scar. Sometimes, a scabbing or bleeding sore heals and then returns again.
- Squamous cell carcinoma mostly appears on sun-exposed skin. These red nodules or scaly lesions often appear on your ears, face or hands. If you have darker skin, lesions may appear on less sun-exposed skin as well.
Other, rarer forms of skin cancer can develop in your skin’s blood vessels (a condition called Kaposi sarcoma), in the oil glands in the skin (called sebaceous gland carcinoma) or just beneath the hair follicles (called Merkel cell carcinoma). All appear as noticeable changes in your skin’s condition without an easily identifiable cause.
Causes and Risk Factors
Cancer cells form when mutations or errors occur in the DNA of your cells. The cells begin multiplying quickly and form a mass. Skin cancers begin in the epidermis or the top layer of your skin. This epidermis forms three layers that correspond with the three main types of cancer diagnoses. Squamous cells lie below the outer surface, basil cells rest below the squamous cells, and melanocytes, below that, produce the pigment in your skin.
Certain environmental substances, such as arsenic, may put you at greater risk if you’re exposed. Otherwise, you may be at greater risk for developing skin cancer if you:
- Have a history of sunburns
- Have fair or freckled skin
- Work outdoors
- Live in a sunny or high-altitude climate
- Have a weakened immune system
- Have lots of moles
- Were exposed to radiation
- Have a family history of skin cancer
Skin Cancer Treatment
Your Brooklyn dermatologist determines the best course of treatment depending on the type and stage of your cancer. He considers the type, size, depth and location of the affected areas, too. If the cancer is small, a biopsy may remove the entire lesion and require no further treatment. Additional treatment options include:
- Freezing. Pre-cancerous growths, called actinic keratoses, and small early-stage cancers can be eliminated by freezing them with liquid nitrogen. This method, called cryosurgery, kills the tissue, which eventually falls away.
- Excisional surgery. This treatment involves removing the affected tissue and an area of healthy tissue around the lesion. The goal is to remove the cancer and any stray cells. Used for any kind of skin cancer, small or large, depending on the type and stage of the cancer.
- Curettage and electrodessication. Your dermatologist removes the affected tissue and then uses an electric needle to carefully destroy several layers of tissue to kill any remaining cancer cells. Your surgeon may decide to use liquid nitrogen for this part.
- Mohs surgery. If the lesion occurs in an area of high visibility, or your doctor’s goal is to preserve as much skin as possible, he may choose to carefully remove the lesion layer by layer, checking each layer under a microscope. He uses this method on large or recurring areas, or on places that may be difficult to treat, such as your nose. He wants to remove as little tissue as possible and still remove all the cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy. Using drugs to kill the cancer cells, your doctor may opt for oral medication, IV, or — in the case of some skin cancers — topical medications that put the drug straight on the cancer source.
- Radiation therapy. This technique directs high-energy impulses directly at the cancer cells. Your dermatologist suggests radiation if surgery can’t remove all the affected cells.
Other treatment options may include photodynamic therapy using lasers or biological therapy that boosts your body’s immune system to fight the cancer cells. Your clinician in Brooklyn is well-versed in each of these methods and can recommend which therapy or therapies work best for your skin cancer concerns. Contact Century Medical and Dental Center to schedule your appointment.