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Everything You Need To Know About Skin Cancer and How To Treat It

red-headed woman putting sunscreen on her face

While you’ve probably heard many times how important it is to protect your skin from the sun, you may not know about the various forms of skin cancer. At the Dermatology Center at CAPS, our goal is to ensure your skin is healthy throughout all stages of life, so we have developed a guide to the different types of skin cancer, the warning signs and symptoms, and how to effectively prevent and treat it so you and your family can stay healthy and happy.

What Are The Different Types Of Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is one of the most common malignancies that can affect people of all ages. The incidence of skin cancer is increasing annually and is important for everyone to understand the three main types. 

  • Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer which forms from the basal keratinocytes of the skin. It is typically found on the face, hands, arms, legs and neck. In most people, it’s slow growing, doesn’t spread to other areas and is not life-threatening. 

  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common type of skin cancer. Cutaneous SCC is typically found on the face, hands, arms, legs, lips and ears. This form of skin cancer rarely spreads but if it does, it occurs slowly and can be life-threatening if left untreated.  

  • Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that occurs from abnormal melanocytes, which are the pigment producing cells in our skin. Although it is not as common as BCC and SCC, melanoma is the most dangerous because of its ability to rapidly spread deep in the skin, which has the potential to spread to other organs if not treated in the early stages. Melanoma typically occurs on the legs for women and the chest and back for men, but it can develop anywhere on the skin. Although uncommon, melanoma can occur in your eyes, mouth, genitals, nails, and internal organs.

What Are The Signs And Symptoms of Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer can present in different ways. The earliest sign of skin cancer is a non-healing spot, a new growth, or a change in an existing lesion. If you notice any of these changes, it’s important to meet with a dermatologist for early diagnosis and treatment. 

  • Basal cell carcinoma may appear as a non-healing lesion or a small, smooth pearly bump. It may also bleed or present as a scabbing sore or red patch. 

  • Squamous cell carcinoma may appear as a firm red nodule or a red scaly patch that does not resolve when presenting on skin. When SCC is on the lip, it may appear as a painful, white and scaly patch. 

  • Melanoma may appear as a new irregular mole, or a changing mole in size, appearance and shape. Use the “ABCDE” trick to identify the five potential changes that are warning signs of melanoma. 

    • A is for asymmetry; when one half does not match the other. 

    • B is for border; if the border of the spot or mole are irregular and uneven.

    • C is for color; if it’s multiple colors such as different shades of brown, tan or black. 

    • D is for diameter, if the spot is larger than the size of a pencil eraser, 6.0 mm.

    • E is for evolving; if the spot changes in size, shape or color.

What Causes Skin Cancer And Who Is Most At Risk?

Skin cancer can develop when mutations occur in the DNA of skin cells. The mutations cause the cells to grow abnormally. Ultraviolet radiation found in sunlight and tanning beds is the number one reason why skin cancer occurs. Although anyone can be diagnosed with skin cancer, some people have high risk factors for developing skin cancer. These are listed below. 

  • Fair skin or freckles 

  • Blonde or red hair and light-colored eyes

  • A higher amount of moles or abnormal moles

  • Men and older individuals

  • A history of tanning bed use

  • Excessive sun exposure or sunburns

  • Personal or family history of skin cancer 

  • A weakened immune system

  • Exposure to radiation

  • Exposure to certain chemicals and substances like arsenic

How To Prevent Skin Cancer

There are many ways to prevent skin cancer. The best way to protect your skin’s health is to use sun protection and avoid spending too much time in the sun. Other ways to protect yourself from skin cancer include:

  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a skin protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Apply the sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside, even on cloudy days and during the winter, and be sure to reapply every two hours. You should apply more frequently if you have been sweating or swimming to ensure the most protection. Our dermatologist, Dr. Jaclyn Wetli, FAAD, also recommends that you use sun protection on your face daily, regardless of the weather outside.

  • Wear protective clothing such as a wide brimmed hat and UPF clothing.

  • Avoid tanning beds. 

  • Check with your dermatologist or pharmacist to see if any of your medications make your skin more sensitive to the sun. 

  • Regularly check your skin for any new growths or suspicious moles. Be sure to check your scalp, ears, the palms of your hands, soles of your feet and your genital area. And, don’t forget to schedule your annual skin check with a dermatologist.

Diagnosing And Treating Skin Cancer

If you have any concerns with your skin, it’s important to talk to a dermatologist as soon as possible. Most forms of skin cancer can be effectively treated if it’s caught in the early stages and spreading has not occurred. At your appointment, your dermatologist will ask if you’ve noticed any changes in your skin or if any new skin growths have appeared. Next, they will perform a skin exam or skin screening, to check for any signs of skin cancer. If they find a spot that’s suspicious, a biopsy may be performed. In a biopsy, a sample of tissue is removed and evaluated by a pathologist to discover if it is skin cancer or not. If it is skin cancer, the treatment option will depend on the type of cancer. 

Common skin cancer treatments include:

  • Topical medications: Applying medications to the skin to treat the skin cancer at the surface. 

  • Cryotherapy: The use of liquid nitrogen to freeze precancerous skin cancer cells. 

  • Excisional surgery: The removal of a tumor and surrounding skin through surgery. 

  • Mohs surgery: The removal of skin cancer in a tissue sparing technique as all tissue moved has microscopic examination.

  • Electrodesiccation and curettage (ED&C): Using an instrument with a sharp looped edge to remove cancer cells.

Schedule An Appointment For A Skin Screening

While it is recommended everyone has an annual skin screening, it is crucial for individuals who have risk factors, have used indoor tanning beds, or have a history of high sun exposure, to regularly get skin checks. If you’re ready for your skin screening, book an appointment with our board-certified dermatologist Dr. Wetli today! We accept most major insurance plans and service Columbus, Ohio, and its surrounding areas. We look forward to helping you improve the health of your skin so you can look and feel your best.