Alaska Dermatologist, Dr. Cusack Treats Skin Cancer
What is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer, like all types of cancer, occurs when a damaged cell in the body loses the ability to control its own growth and ceases to perform a useful function. The cell continues to divide without inhibition. Normally, the body controls cancer growth with the immune system. White blood cells consume and destroy the cancerous cell before it causes damage to surrounding cells. In some cases, however, the immune system is unable to control the growth of the damaged cells. The cells continue to divide until a mass of cancerous cells becomes large enough to damage the proper functioning of other cells. This growth is what we call a tumor, and a tumor represents a stage of cancer that is deemed necessary to treat in most circumstances.
Skin cancer can affect everyone. According to the National Cancer Institute, “From 2006-2010, the median age at diagnosis for cancer of the skin was 62 years of age. The age-adjusted incidence rate was 23.1 per 100,000 men and women per year.”
Dermatology specialists in Anchorage, AK are here to help you understand skin cancer types, causes and treatments. Contact Dr. Michael L. Cusack and schedule your skin cancer screening today.
Types of Skin Cancer
There are several different types of skin cancers but the vast majority of cases include Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC), which is the most common type of skin cancer, Squanamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC), and Malignant Melanoma (MM); listed in descending order of frequency and ascending order aggressiveness.
While all cancers have a similar cause and effect in the body, there are many different types of skin cancer. Most skin cancers are easily identified and cured. They only become dangerous when they spread to more sensitive areas of the body.
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
Basal Cell Carcinoma, or BCC, is the most common type of skin cancer, accounting for about 80 percent of all cases. It occurs in the basal cells, or those cells in the lowest layer of the epidermis. It usually appears as a pink or reddish and elevated growth on the skin once it reaches advanced stages. This type of cancer rarely spreads to other parts of the body, but it can result in permanent scars and disfigurement when cured because large sections of skin and tissue will need to be removed in the process.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
Squamous Cell Carcinoma, or SCC, is the second most common type of cancer, accounting for about 16 percent of all cases. The squamous cells that this cancer infects are found in the upper layers of the epidermis. The cancerous lesions will appear inflamed, crusted and scaly in the advanced stages. SCC is more likely to spread to other tissues than BCC, and it should be treated as early as possible. Unlike BCC, SCC can also occur in skin areas that see little sun exposure, such as the genitals and inside of the mouth.
Malignant Melanoma (MM)
Melanoma is one of the more discussed types of skin cancer not because it is the most common, but because it is by far the most deadly. Melanoma occurs in only about 4 percent of cases. It infects the melanocytes, cells in the skin responsible for producing the pigment melanin that gives skin its dark coloring. It most often develops in skin areas where melanocytes are more active, such as moles. The appearance of a new mole may also signal melanoma. It is imperative to remove melanoma as early as possible because it is the most likely of the skin cancers to metastasize, or spread, to other parts of the body. Unlike the other types of skin cancer that usually affect only skin cells, melanoma usually metastasizes into the lymphatic system. It can then spread quite easily to the internal organs and become fatal.
What Causes Skin Cancer?
Sun exposure is the most common cause of skin cancer. Radiation from the sun causes the cellular damage that results in cancer. That said, it is important to remember that there is no definitive way to cause or prevent cancer. Often, it just happens. A person with a high degree of sun exposure may never develop skin cancer, and a person with almost no sun exposure may still develop skin cancer. Research, however, supports the fact that sun exposure does dramatically increase the risk of skin cancer. Another less frequent cause of skin cancer may be due to exposure to certain chemicals or agents that have caused extreme damage to the skin.
The most common type is an actinic or solar keratosis – which occur on sun exposed areas on light complexioned people. The lesion has a rough or scaly surface and irregular border. They are brown to tan and usually located on the face, neck, hands, forearms and/or any sun exposed area. Treatment varies from topical chemo-therapy to an occasional shave biopsy or curettage. Actinic keratosis, if untreated, may progress to a squamous cell carcinoma. A specialized form of actinic keratosis is the cutaneous horn which also may have cancer at the base.
The ABC’s of Dermatology
The ABC’s of Dermatology are important features to pay attention to when looking at the moles you have. Everything from changes in size, shape, color, or itching, bleeding and oozing, are all reasons to see a dermatologist. An easy way to remember these is using the first 5 letters of the alphabet or what we call the ABC’s of Dermatology.
Alaska Dermatology Laser & Skin Cancer Center recommends you to follow these easy signs and remember to see a dermatologist when:
A Asymmetry – If each side is not asymmetric (one half matching the other)
B Borders – If the borders are uneven
C Color – If the mole appears to have different colors
D Diameter – If the size is greater than 6mm or bigger than a pencil eraser
E Evolving- If you see it changing in any way.
What Treatments Exist for Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is one of the easiest cancers to cure. If identified before metastasis to deeper tissues or systems, 95 percent of skin cancers are treated with little hassle. Treatment normally consists of the surgical removal of the cancerous skin cells.
If the cancer does spread to the lymphatic system or internal organs then the patient will need a more aggressive treatment, including radiation or chemotherapy. It should be noted that metastasized skin cancers are extremely difficult to eradicate, and many do prove fatal. Early detected and removal of precancerous lesions is the key to stopping skin cancer.
Our Skin Cancer Specialists in Anchorage, AK understand that your case is unique and will give you the best clinical treatment you need.
Treatment of Pre-Cancerous and Cancerous Lesions
Most precancerous lesions can be treated with topical chemotherapy that usually leaves no marks. Occasionally, liquid nitrogen is required.
The treatment of basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers can depend on the location of the cancer and will be determined once the lesion has been biopsied and reports from the pathologist have been reviewed by the dermatologist. This decision is made per individual case and there are several approaches.
The extent of the treatment of malignant melanoma depends on progression of the individual lesion and whether or not this has been confined or has already spread. This is decided after biopsy and physical exam and is very individualized.
See Dr. Michael L. Cusack and discuss skin cancer dermatology today. The sooner you schedule your skin cancer screening, the better you’ll know your diagnosis and treatment, if needed.
Skin Cancer Awareness
The Skin Cancer Foundation offers great skin cancer prevention guidelines, a list of tips that we fully recommend. Our goals are Prevention, Detection, and Treatment.
- Stay in the shade when the sun’s at its hottest, usually 10am to 4pm.
- Avoid outdoor and booth tanning.
- Always apply sunscreen (preferably broad spectrum sunscreen) before heading outside and reapply as you spend more time outdoors.
- It’s safer to cover up with clothing and use hats and sunglasses too.
- Children and babies should be kept out of constant sun.
- Be proactive and examine your skin regularly.
- However, also plan a professional skin exam with your dermatologist.
Alaska Dermatology Laser and Skin Cancer Center offers a free consultation. Just call and ask about an appointment with our medical experts.