Skin Cancer: Protect Your Largest Organ
What is skin cancer?
Of all forms of cancer, skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed. In any given year, more than five million people are treated for skin cancer. Over their lifetime, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer. And one person dies of melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer — every 54 minutes.
What factors can elevate someone’s risk for skin cancer?
Certain risk factors elevate a person’s risk for developing skin cancer. Risk factors for skin cancer vary for the different types. But in general, your risk may be increased if you have:
- Lighter natural skin color
- A family or personal history of skin cancer
- Sun exposure
- A history of sunburn, particularly in early life
- A history of indoor tanning
- Skin that freckles, burns, reddens easily, or becomes painful in direct sunlight
- Blue or green eyes
- Blonde or red hair
- Certain kinds of moles, or numerous moles
Detecting skin cancer early.
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends monthly self-examinations (head-to-toe) to look for any new or changing lesions or abnormalities that might be cancerous or precancerous. Skin cancers that are detected and removed early are generally curable, so it’s essential to know what warning signs to look for. To do that, know your “ABCDEs”:
- A – Asymmetry: Draw an imaginary (or actual) line through the middle of a suspicious mole or lesion. If the two halves don’t match, that’s a warning sign.
- B – Border: Benign moles have smooth, even borders. Uneven, notched or scalloped borders may indicate the presence of melanoma skin cancer.
- C – Color: A mole that is a single solid color (e.g., brown) is more likely to be benign than a mole with different shades or colors.
- D – Diameter: Malignant moles/lesions are usually larger than a pencil eraser in diameter.
- E – Evolving: A benign mole will look unchanged over time. If you notice changes over time in size, shape, color, height or anything else, that’s a big warning sign.
For any of these signs, seek your doctor’s care immediately. Also, get annual medical skin exams from your dermatologist. It could save your life and help you continue to live a good-quality life.
Know, but do not wait for, the symptoms of skin cancer.
It’s important to think of warning signs rather than symptoms. Of course, warning signs are symptoms of skin cancer. But the point is to find skin cancer as early as possible, before it progresses to an advanced state, when treatment will be less effective. Here are some of the more common symptoms to watch — but not wait — for:
- Unusual skin growth, bump or sore that doesn’t improve
- Pale patch of skin
- Waxy, translucent bump
- Brownish scar
- Flesh colored-lesion
- Lesions or bumps that bleed or become crusty
- Firm lumps on the skin with rough surface
- Reddish, scaly patch of skin
The type of skin cancer makes a difference in treatment and prognosis.
It’s important for you and your doctor to know which type of skin cancer you have because it influences your treatment options… and your prognosis. Be sure to talk to your doctor about which type of skin cancer you have. There are five main types of skin cancer:
- Basal and squamous cell skin cancer – Mostly found in areas exposed to the sun, like the head, neck and arms, these are very common. Luckily, they’re also very treatable.
- Melanoma skin cancer – Accounting for about 1% of skin cancers but more likely to grow and spread, melanoma causes a significant majority of skin cancer deaths.
- Merkel cell carcinoma – This rare, often fast-growing type of skin cancer is when cells in the skin, Merkel cells, grow uncontrollably.
- Lymphoma of the skin – Lymphoma is a form of cancer that originates in the immune system. Lymphomas that develop in the skin, called skin lymphomas, are rare.
- Kaposi sarcoma – This is a particular form of cancer that develops from cells that line lymph or blood vessels. Tumors usually appear on the skin (especially the face) or mucosal surfaces, such as inside the mouth, but they can also develop in other areas, such as the lymph nodes, lungs, or digestive tract.
How is skin cancer treated?
Depending on the type of skin cancer, where it has developed, your health profile and other factors, you may have one or more of the following treatment options:
- Mohs micrographic surgery – Performed by specially trained surgeons, Mohs surgery is the most effective technique for removing basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. The surgeon removes the visible tumor with a thin layer of surrounding tissue. The tumor is frozen, stained, mapped and checked for the presence of cancer. The process is repeated layer by layer until no cancer is found in the sample.
- Excisional surgery – Removal of the entire growth and a surrounding margin of normal skin. The excised tissue is sent to the pathology lab to confirm that all cancerous cells have been excised (removed).
- Curettage – Small lesions can be scraped off with a specialized instrument called a curette and with an electrocautery needle that destroys residual tumor cells and controls bleeding.
- Cryosurgery – Destruction of the tumor by freezing it with liquid nitrogen. No cutting, no bleeding and no anesthesia.
- Radiation – Ionized radiation is delivered in series to cancerous lesions to repeatedly harm cancer cells until they are destroyed. Often used in combination with other therapies.
- Photodynamic therapy – A specialized chemical agent that reacts to light is introduced into the body and taken up by the abnormal cells. Later, delivering strong light to those areas selectively destroys squamous cell carcinomas while minimizing damage to surrounding tissues.
Why choose Alpha Med Physicians Group in Tinley Park, Homewood, and Palos Heights?
As a community cancer-care provider, Alpha Med Physicians Group brings together a deep commitment to excellence and individual care with a network of resources to treat skin cancer effectively. With skin cancer, surgery is common, and we are proud to work with some of Chicagoland’s best dermatologic surgeons, including Mohs surgeons. You or your loved one can also depend on Alpha Med’s cancer specialists to deliver the most advanced care and to coordinate every aspect of your treatment… with your best outcomes and quality of life as our objective.
For more information, or to schedule an appointment for skin cancer treatment in Tinley Park, Homewood, Palos Heights and the greater Chicago area, call 708-342-1900. You can also request an appointment using the easy online form on this page.