skin cancer

overview

Skin cancer is a tumor or growth of abnormal cells on the skin, which is your body’s largest organ. These tumors can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). There are three types of skin cancer:

  • Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type. It typically occurs on the surface layer of your skin.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type and it also develops on the outer layers of skin.
  • Malignant melanoma is the most serious type, since it’s more likely to spread beneath the skin. It can be life threatening: 10,000 people will die this year from melanoma.
Although skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, your skin has an incredible capacity to heal and regenerate. Skin cancer is often treatable, especially if caught early. So it’s important to know the warning signs.

symptoms

Basal cell carcinoma often looks like a small, dome-shaped pimple, with a pearly color. You might see blood vessels on the surface. In other cases, basal cell carcinomas may look like a pink, shiny patch or a sore that doesn’t heal.

Squamous cell carcinoma usually looks like a red, crusty or scaly patch, a sore or a firm red bump. You’ll usually see these signs on skin that’s been exposed to the sun.

Malignant melanoma often develops in or near a mole. Warning signs of melanoma include a mole that is painful, itchy or bleeding, or a mole that has changed shape, color or size.

When examining your moles, remember the rule of “ABCDE”:

  • Asymmetry: Is each side of the mole shaped differently?
  • Border: Are the mole’s edges ragged or blurred?
  • Color: Is the mole uneven shades of brown, black, tan, red, white or blue?
  • Diameter: Is the mole larger than the tip of a pencil eraser?
  • Enlargement: Has the mole increased in size?
  • Evolution: Does the mole look different than the other moles around it or is it changing size, shape or color?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, or if you’re just concerned about a suspicious mole or a bump, schedule an appointment with a doctor.

diagnosis

Skin cancer is diagnosed with a skin biopsy, which involves removing a sample of the suspicious tissue for examination under a microscope. If your skin cancer is large or deep, or if it has spread to other parts of your body, you may need more tests, including a sentinel lymph node biopsy, which shows whether a melanoma has spread to your lymph nodes. You may also require X-rays, CT, MRI, or PET scans.

treatment options

If you’re diagnosed with melanoma, your doctor will evaluate how deep the tumor has grown into your skin and how far it has spread in your body. Once the depth has been determined, your doctor can develop a personalized treatment plan. 

Sometimes, a biopsy can remove all of the cancerous tissue, and no further treatment is necessary. In most cases, though, you’ll need to have the lesion – and part of the normal skin around it – removed.

Removal can be done using a variety of techniques: freezing, scraping and burning, excision and radiation therapy. Some of these techniques can be performed right in your doctor’s office, using a local anesthetic. 

Other treatment options include: 

  • Mohs micrographic surgery: Your doctor precisely removes only the cancerous tissue.
  • Surgery: Larger growths may require more extensive surgery to remove. In some cases, your doctor may need to use flaps or grafts of skin to improve your appearance afterwards.
  • Radiation therapy: This procedure uses highly advanced technology to destroy cancer cells or to prevent them from growing.
  • External beam radiation: This is usually used to treat melanoma that has spread to other organs. 
  • Immunotherapy: This treatment stimulates your immune system to identify and destroy cancer cells, without affecting healthy tissue.
  • Clinical trials: If you have Stage 3 or Stage 4 melanoma, you may want to consider clinical trials — research studies in which scientists test potential new cures — as a treatment option.

prevention

Skin cancer is the most preventable type of cancer – yet the number of cases continues to grow. In the U.S., more than 3.5 million cases are diagnosed every year. That’s more than breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined. Experts predict that 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in his or her lifetime.

People of all skin colors and races can develop skin cancer; however, those at the highest risk are people with fair skin and blue eyes, those who sunburn easily and those who have a lot of freckles. Additional risk factors include previous sunburns, a family history of skin cancer, a weakened immune system, scarring on your skin caused by a disease, and exposure to X-rays, tanning beds or sunlamps, or to cancer-causing compounds (such as arsenic).

Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun damage your skin and, over time, lead to skin cancer. The best way to protect yourself is to avoid too much sun exposure – especially sunburns. Here’s how:

  • Avoid direct sunlight for long periods of time, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim to protect your face and ears and long-sleeved shirts and pants.
  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or higher.
  • Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before you go out in the sun and reapply often – especially when swimming or sweating.
  • Wear sunglasses with UVA protection to shield your eyes and use a lip balm with sunscreen to protect your lips.
  • Don’t use tanning beds or sunlamps.

treating your cancer, caring for you.

Our musculoskeletal oncology program is located at Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee. We treat all kinds of musculoskeletal cancer, including adult and pediatric bone and soft-tissue tumors and metastatic bone disease.

Team members include an orthopedic surgical oncologist, radiologist, radiation oncologist, medical oncologist, plastic surgeons and a physical therapist.

In addition to top-notch medical care, Aurora offers patients:

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