Skin cancer is an abnormal growth of skin cells, and anyone can get skin cancer, no matter their skin color. You can get skin cancer even if you never sunburn.
Your skin has several layers but the two main layers are the epidermis (top or outer layer) and the dermis (lower or inner layer). Skin cancer begins in the epidermis, which is made up of three kinds of cells:
The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, also known as non-melanoma skin cancers, are the most common forms of skin cancer. They arise within the top layer of skin and frequently appear on any sun-exposed area of the body, including the face, ears, bald scalp, and neck. While these skin cancers may grow slowly, if left untreated, they can grow deep and spread to the nearest lymph nodes, through the blood to bones, the lungs, and other parts of the skin.
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, as it can spread to lymph nodes and most internal organs. It is easier to cure when found in its early stages before it spreads to the dermis.
Overall, all skin cancers are highly curable when detected and treated in their early stages.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. It most often develops in people who have fair skin but can also develop in people with skin of color. It usually develops after years of frequent sun exposure or indoor tanning.
Basal cell carcinoma usually looks like
These signs of basal cell carcinoma usually appear on the head, neck, arms, chest, abdomen, and legs.
With early diagnosis, basal cell carcinoma is treatable. If you fail to get treatment for basal cell carcinoma, cancer can grow deep and penetrate the nerves and bones, causing damage and disfigurement.
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer. It most often develops in people who are fair skin but can also develop in people with skin of color.
Squamous cell carcinoma usually looks like
These signs of squamous cell carcinoma usually tend to form on skin that gets frequent sun exposure, such as the rim of the ear, face, neck, arms, chest, and back.
Squamous cell carcinoma can also grow from precancerous skin growths called actinic keratoses (AKs). AKs are dry, scaly patches or spots that commonly affect people who have fair skin. They usually appear on the head, neck, hand, and forearms. AKs aren’t skin cancer, but they can grow into squamous cell carcinoma if left untreated. Blue light treatment is effective in treating AKs.
With early diagnosis, squamous cell carcinoma is treatable. If you fail to get treatment for squamous cell carcinoma, cancer can grow deep and spread to other areas of the body over time.
Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer because it can spread to lymph nodes and most internal organs. Melanoma can occur anywhere on the body but most often appears on the upper back, torso, lower legs, head, and neck.
Melanoma can develop in a mole or suddenly appear as a new dark spot on the skin.
The ABCDEs of Melanoma
Knowing the ABCDEs of Melanoma can help you detect melanoma during self-examination.
A is for Symmetry. One half of the spot is unlike the other half.
B is for Border. The spot has an irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined border.
C is for Color. The spot has varying colors from one area to the next, such as shades of tan, brown, or black, or areas of white, red, or blue.
D is for Diameter. Melanomas are usually greater than 6 millimeters or about the size of a pencil eraser; however, they can be smaller when diagnosed.
E is for Evolving. The spot looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape, or color.
Early diagnosis and treatment are critical as melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer.
You may be more at risk for developing skin cancer if
According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD), skin cancer is the most common cancer in the US, affecting one in five Americans in their lifetime.
Research estimates show that:
The ADA encourages everyone to perform regular skin self-exams to check for signs of skin cancer. Check out the ADA’s "How To Spot Skin Cancer" infographic to check your skin regularly.
You should see Dr. Warmuth, a board-certified dermatologist, at Warmuth Institute of Dermatology if you notice a spot on your skin that:
Call (856) 358-1500 to schedule an appointment today.
During your consultation, Dr. Warmuth will examine your skin for any suspicious-looking spots. If she detects any spots that may look like skin cancer, she’ll perform a skin biopsy to remove the spot or part of it to send to the lab for evaluation.
At the lab, the tissue sample will be looked at under a microscope and checked for cancer cells. If cancer cells are found, the type will be indicated in the biopsy report.
If melanoma cells are seen, the biopsy report will indicate the type of melanoma, how deep the melanoma tumor has grown into the skin, and how quickly the melanoma cells are growing and dividing. When possible, the stage of disease will also be indicated.
If no cancer cells were found, the biopsy report would indicate that as well.
If your lab report indicates you have skin cancer, Dr. Warmuth will recommend a treatment option based on the type of skin cancer you have, where it is located, and how deeply cancer has grown.
There are both nonsurgical and surgical treatment options available for skin cancer, some of which include:
Freezing or Cryotherapy. Cryotherapy can be performed during an in-office visit. It involves spraying an extremely cold substance (e.g., liquid nitrogen) on the skin cancer to destroy cancer cells.
Light Therapy or Photodynamic Therapy (PDT). PDT is a two-part process. First, a solution that makes your skin more sensitive to light is applied to the cancer and a bit of skin around it. You’ll sit with this solution on your skin for one to several hours. Second, your skin is treated with a blue or red light to kill the cancerous cells. This treatment is effective in treating early basal cell carcinoma, but repeated treatments may be necessary.
Medications. Medications can be applied to the skin at home as prescribed either as an initial treatment (applied to the skin cancer to help reduce the size of the cancerous tumor) or as a secondary treatment (applied after another treatment to kill any remaining cancer cells). Two drugs approved by the FDA for such treatment include Imiquimod and 5-FU.
Radiation Therapy. For radiation treatments, you’ll need to go to a hospital or treatment center for several treatments given over a period of several weeks. This may be the only treatment recommended, or it could be a secondary treatment to kill any remaining cancer cells. Radiation treatment is usually only recommended for patients 60 years or older.
Surgical Removal. Surgical removal of skin cancer can be done in the office while you remain awake. A topical anesthetic is used to numb the area. There are three types of surgical removal that are used to treat skin cancer.
For melanoma that has grown deeper into the skin or spreads, Dr. Warmuth will recommend additional treatments after surgery to eradicate any remaining cancer cells.
For skin cancer prevention, the ADA recommends the following:
Skin Cancer Treatment at Warmuth Institute of Dermatology
If you suspect you may have a suspicious spot or mole that may be skin cancer, call Warmuth Institute of Dermatology at (856) 358-1500 to schedule an appointment for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Skin cancer can appear on the body in many different ways, including:
The ADA encourages everyone to perform regular skin self-exams to check for signs of skin cancer. Check out the ADA's "How To Spot Skin Cancer" infographic to check your skin regularly.
Malignant melanomas are highly aggressive cancers that can spread to other parts of the body. If not treated early, these cancers may be fatal.
Melanoma can grow quickly and can become life-threatening within six weeks after detection. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential.
No, skin cancer doesn’t go away on its own. You will need treatment to remove the cancerous cells from your skin. The longer you delay treatment, the cancer cells can grow deeper, injuring nerves, blood vessels, and anything else in its path. As the cancer cells pile up, a large tumor can form. In the case of melanoma, cancer can spread to your lymph nodes and most internal organs. Melanoma is the deadliest of skin cancers.
Yes, it is highly recommended that you have 6-month check-ups after having skin cancer for the first two years after detection of skin cancer, then yearly, since once you have had it you are at a higher risk of developing another skin cancer.