More than 3 million people are affected by skin cancer in the United States each year. In fact, the rate of skin cancer has increased so quickly, that over 50 percent of new cases of cancer each year are skin cancer. Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells which occurs when the DNA of skin cells is damaged, typically due to UV exposure from the sun or tanning beds. This damage triggers mutations in the cells which lead them to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors.
The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma (which accounts for 80% of all cases of skin cancer), squamous cell carcinoma (which accounts for about 16% of cases), and malignant melanoma (which accounts for about 4% of all cases of skin cancer).
Skin Cancer Early Detection
While these numbers and facts may be alarming, there are many things you can do to prevent yourself from becoming a statistic of skin cancer. Skin cancers are extremely treatable if found and removed early, so it is vital that you take steps to prevent as well as know the warning signs.
One of the most important things you can do to reduce your risk of skin cancer is a self-examination. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that you perform a head-to-toe self-examination of your skin once a month, so you are aware of any changes or growths that may appear. It is best to perform this self-examination in a room with bright light, a full-length mirror, and a hand mirror.
- Examine your face, including your lips, mouth, and ears
- Inspect your scalp, utilizing a friend to check each section if you can
- Check your hands, including in-between your fingers and the front and back of your palms
- Continue up your arms to examine your wrists, elbows, and all sides of your upper arms and armpits
- Now focus on your chest and torso, checking the undersides of the breasts, as well
- Using the full-length mirror, check the back of your neck, shoulders, back, buttocks, and back of your legs, including your feet and between your toes
- It is important to also examine your genitals and the buttocks area
If you should see anything concerning, it is vital to schedule an appointment with your dermatologist right away. Some warning signs include:
- A skin growth that changes in size, color, shape, or texture
- A mole that has an irregular outline, is bigger than the size of a pencil eraser, or appears suddenly
- A spot that itches, hurts, or bleeds
- An open sore that doesn’t heal within three weeks
Skin Cancer Screening Exam at Dermatology Association of Plymouth Meeting, P.C.
If you schedule an appointment for a skin cancer screening, it is important to know how to prepare as well as what the exam will entail. Most doctors recommend wearing loose, comfortable clothing to the appointment and remove all nail polish prior to the exam (so they can check your nail beds).
They will ask you if you have any concerns prior to the exam, so be prepared to show them any worrisome moles or spots you found during your self-examination. If there are any slots they see that are suspicious looking, the dermatology may biopsy (remove a layer of skin) them for further examination under the microscope.
If the results come back that the mole or spot is cancerous, depending on the type of cancer and the location, there are a few different procedures that might take place: liquid nitrogen destruction, electrodessication and curettage, excision or Mohs surgery.
Liquid nitrogen, also described ad “freezing,” is a simple and fast in office procedure aimed at destroying superficial cancerous or pre-cancerous lesions. These sites will become red, may get a superficial blister and then scab and heal over the next 7-10 days.
Electrodessication and curettage is more involved than freezing is another common method of treating superficial skin cancers. Using a scraping technique, the physician will scrape the cancerous tissue until he or she feels normal surrounding and deep skin tissue. The wound is then burned with the cautery tool to stop bleeding and improve clearance of the cancerous tissue. The wound is covered with Vaseline and a bandage and is left to heal over the next 2 weeks.
An excision is the removal of the skin cancer along with some of the healthy skin tissue that surrounds it. This is done to ensure that all cancer cells are removed. Small incisions are closed with stitches and usually only require a local anesthetic.
Mohs surgery is a microscopically guided procedure that removed the skin cancer one layer at a time. Each layer is immediately checked under the microscope and the surgeon is able to spare as much healthy skin as possible. Mohs surgery is most commonly recommended performed in cosmetically sensitive areas, such as the face, but it may be also used in areas that are hard to treat, such as the lower legs, scalp, neck, or hands.
To learn more about skin cancer checks, or to schedule your consultation at Dermatology Associates of Plymouth Meeting, P.C., serving the Philadelphia metro area, including The Main Line, Chestnut Hill, Blue Bell, Gwynedd, and Flourtown, please fill out the form on this page or call (610) 828-0400.