Skin Cancer Overview

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is a term for variety of growths in the skin. Other names for cancer include tumor, malignancy, or carcinoma.

Are there different types of skin cancer?

Yes. The most common type is basal cell carcinoma. In the United States, approximately 35% of men and 25% of women will have this cancer in their lifetime. Over 500,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. The second most common is squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma is the third. Basal cell and Squamous cell carcinomas never “turn into” Malignant melanoma. There are many other rarer types of skin cancer as well.

 

Types of skin cancer:

Actinic Keratosis (pre-cancers)

AK's typically occur on body parts that are most often exposed to the sun. Doctors estimate that 40% of squamous cell carcinomas, the second leading cause of skin cancer deaths in the United States, begin as AKs. They usually appear as small, pink crusty, scaly papules. Early on, they may come and go. Sometimes they are more easily detected by feel than by sight.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basil Cell Carcinoma is one of the most common skin cancers, caused by long-term sun exposure. In the United States, approximately 35% of men and 25% of women will have this cancer in their lifetime. Over 500,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. It usually appears as a pink-translucent papule. In addition, basal cell carcinoma sometimes resembles non-cancerous skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema. Basal cell carcinomas are rarely life threatening, but if ignored, can be very destructive by overtaking normal surrounding tissue.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common skin cancer after basal cell carcinoma. They usually appear as thick, rough, scaly patches that may bleed easily. They often look like warts and sometimes appear as open sores. The skin around the site may exhibit signs of wrinkling, pigment changes, and loss of elasticity. Squamous cell carcinomas are readily curable if treated early. If diagnosis and treatment are delayed, squamous cell carcinomas can spread or metastasize to other regions of the body.

Melanoma

Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. Even so, if diagnosed and removed while it is still thin and limited to the outermost skin layer, it has a rather high cure rate. Once the cancer advances and spreads to other parts of the body, it is hard to treat and can be deadly.

How skin cancer is treated and how successful is it?

There are several effective treatments for these tumors. Therapies such as surgery, radiation, freezing with liquid nitrogen, and burning with electric current have a greater than 90% cure rate.

For tumors that have recurred following the above treatments, or for cancers in difficult-to-treat sites, a surgical technique called Mohs Micrographic Surgery offers the best chance for total removal with the highest cure rate possible of 99%.