Skin Cancer 101

What Is Skin Cancer?

Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cells at an unpredictable rate due to genetic mutations acquired by those cells. As cancerous cells grow, normal surrounding healthy tissues are destroyed. The most common cause of skin cancer is long-term exposure to sunlight, often starting as a young adult. Skin cancers are therefore most common on sun-exposed areas on the body, especially the head and neck. Skin cancer can occur more commonly in people with fair complexion or people who are immunosuppressed.

The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Melanoma is a less common, but often more serious, type of skin cancer.

What Are Basal Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Millions of basal cell carcinomas (BCC) and squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) are diagnosed every year in the United States. These tumors often start as a small red bump that looks like a pimple but does not go away and sometimes bleeds. Basal cell carcinomas grow slowly while squamous cell carcinomas can grow at different rates.

BCCs almost never spread to other parts of the body, but they can grow slowly and continue to enlarge locally. BCCs may become bleeding ulcers if left untreated.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

SCCs have a slightly higher risk of spread (metastasis) compared to BCCs. This risk of metastasis is increased for larger, deeper tumors and tumors that grow into nerves.

There are several subtypes of BCCs and SCCs. Some grow downward, forming “roots” underneath the surface of the skin while others grow outward. Therefore, what you see on the skin might only be a small portion of the whole tumor. It is important to diagnose the different cancer subtypes with a skin biopsy before treatment, as different therapies may be required. 

What Can You Do to Prevent Skin Cancers?

Long-term exposure to UV rays from natural sunlight is the main cause of skin cancers. While you cannot reverse sun exposure from the past, lifestyle changes can prevent further accumulation of UV damage. These lifestyle changes include wearing wide-brimmed hats, applying sunscreen (SPF 50 or above), and avoiding prolonged sun exposure between 10am-2pm.

How Is Skin Cancer Treated?

Methods commonly used to treat skin cancer include surgery, electrodessication and curettage (“scrape and burn” with an electric needle), chemotherapy creams, or radiation therapy. Initial treatment of most skin cancers has a success rate of over 90%. The method chosen depends on the location and subtype of the skin cancer.

Schedule A Skin Cancer Consultation & Exam in Wellesley, MA

Please contact DermWellesley to schedule a consultation to determine if you are a candidate for the procedure and to discuss any questions you may have.

If you have questions about medical dermatology treatments and procedures or would like to discuss a specific concern with a physician, please contact our office to set up an appointment. Our team would be happy to help! 

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