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Everything You Need to Know About Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. In fact, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by age 70. Fortunately, skin cancer is usually highly treatable when caught early. 

You can increase your chances of catching skin cancer in its earliest stages and getting the treatment you need quickly, so it’s important to equip yourself with accurate information. 

At Lakeview Dermatology, Dr. Matthew Mittelbronn is dedicated to helping you identify the signs, symptoms, and risk factors of skin cancer. Here’s what you need to know.

An overview of skin cancer

There are three main types of cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Of the three types, melanoma is the deadliest because of its ability to aggressively spread quickly to other parts of your body. (This is called metastasis.)  

Because of this, we further divide skin cancer into 2 main categories:  melanoma and ‘non-melanoma skin cancer’ (essentially everything else) 

Of the non-melanoma skin cancers, basal cell carcinoma is the least likely to spread.  Squamous cell carcinoma can spread, but it is uncommon in skin cancer, unless it is ignored for a long time or happens to be an aggressive variant.

Causes of skin cancer

Your skin consists of three major layers known as the epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis. Skin cancer occurs when one of the cells that live in the outermost layer, the epidermis, ‘goes bad’ and begins dividing uncontrollably.

These uncontrolled cell growths happen when damage and mutations in the skin cell DNA occurs.  In skin cancer, this damage is almost always from UV radiation from sun exposure.  Occasionally, there are other factors involved, such as a genetic tendency towards skin cancer, certain sun-sensitive medical conditions, or long-term exposure to certain chemicals.

Risk factors for skin cancer

Everyone is at risk for developing skin cancer, but there are a few risk factors that significantly increase your chances, including:

You’re also at increased risk for skin cancer if you have a family or personal history of skin cancer, havehad precancerous skin lesions in the past, or received radiation treatment for other skin conditions. 

Diagnosing skin cancer

Each type of skin cancer presents slightly differently, and not all skin changes are cause for concern. At Lakeview Dermatology, we always conduct a thorough skin examination first and then, if we discover any concerning lesions, we will suggest performing a skin biopsy to diagnose exactly what the concerning lesion is.

Below are some concerning features and signs you should pay attention to. 

Please make an appointment with us if you notice the following skin changes:

Some additional features to watch for are dark spots/moles that just look ‘ugly’, pearly or waxy bumps, bleeding and scabbing sores that never resolve, or persistent red scaly spots.

Treatment for skin cancer

The primary goal of skin cancer treatment is to remove all of the cancerous cells. We use a few different types of removal methods depending on multiple factors including the type, extent, and location of your skin cancer. The main types of treatment include:

For skin cancers that are in sensitive areas of the body, such as the face and ears or for particularly large skin cancers, we recommend a specialized surgery called MOHS surgery. With this, the surgeon looks at the removed areas under the microscope during the surgery and removes any additional abnormal tissue necessary, until the entire cancer is assured to be completely removed.  This is performed at specially-trained surgeons offices.

In some cases, we can use a topical chemotherapy cream to treat the cancer instead of performing a procedure, although this is not common and not considered first-line treatment.

Another, less common treatment treatment method is a procedure that uses a specialized radiation device.  There are only a few centers in the area that have this device, and patients have expressed mixed reviews due to the number of treatments required.  Additionally, the results are not better than other treatment methods.

Preventing skin cancer

While there’s no guarantee you won’t develop skin cancer, you can take steps to lower your risk. The best strategies to avoid skin cancer include:

It’s also a good idea to talk to your dermatologist about your medical conditions and prescription medications you’re taking, as there are some conditions and medications that increase your sensitivity to sunlight. 

We know that it’s frightening to learn that you have skin cancer. That’s why we want you to be fully informed and prepared — so that instead of frightened, you can feel empowered to take action.  

At Lakeview Dermatology, we are here to support you if you have been given such a diagnosis, so you best  understand your diagnosis and treatment options.  If you’d like more information or are concerned about skin changes, contact our Lake Worth, Texas, office at 817-369-8098, or request an appointment online today.

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