What does skin cancer have to do with you? Quite a bit actually. Skin cancers are the most common cancers and that is when compared to ALL other cancers. There are 3.5 million skin cancers diagnosed each year and another 77,000 cases of melanoma. The incidence of all types of skin cancer are on the rise for an unknown reason. One can speculate however, i.e., tanning beds, less coverage of skin with modern fashion, changes in our atmosphere, etc., etc. But nobody really knows why.
As you can see from this graphic, this is a common problem. Of course, there are several types of skin cancer that are common. There are types that are not as common. Then there are very rare types that are beyond the scope of this discussion.
Let’s talk about the most common types first. Basal cell carcinoma’s are the most common types of skin cancer. As the name suggests, this type of tumor arises from the basal layer of skin and is associated with UV or sun exposure. This type of skin cancer comprises about 2.8 million of the 3.5 million skin cancers occurring in 2012. These tumors very rarely spread to lymph nodes or other organ systems.
Tumors start off small… are often ulcerated with raised edges. Like a sore that never goes away. They usually only spread locally and can become quite large if left alone…
They can locally invade through bone and can require extensive surgery to remove. It is therefore wise to seek advice while these lesions are small and easily removed. We usually remove them surgically but they can also be removed by a Moh’s procedure. After complete removal the tumors rarely come back unless there are multiple areas involved (multi-focal tumors). Also, the sun damage that caused the original tumor is also present on other exposed areas. Therefore, once one is removed you must be diligent to identify and remove other tumors.
The second most common tumor, accounting for about 700,000 cases, is squamous cell carcinoma. These tumors arise from the superficial layer of the skin and are also associated with sun exposure. Squamous cell carcinomas involve the most superficial layer of skin. They are usually scaley, thinner tumors in sun exposed areas. Unlike basal cell cancers, these tumors can spread to lymph nodes in about 2-3% of cases. This is why removal of these tumors early is a good thing.
The big daddy of skin tumors is the melanoma. It arises from the pigment cell in the skin called the melanocyte. These tumors can be nasty. About 70,000 of these tumors were diagnosed in the U.S. last year and it seems that it is on the rise. Melanoma can spread about anywhere. From the brain to the eye, spread of the disease is a tough problem. These tumors can occur any place in the body that has pigment cells.
This picture is pretty classic for a nodular type melanoma, irregular, varied color, and a nodule. They can, however, look like a normal mole. Any pigmented lesion on the skin should be watched for change or increase in size. Treating melanoma early is critical to survival and recovery. Early treatment means less chance of spread to other places.
There you have it, a quick primer on common skin cancers you need to look out for. Come see us for these problems and we can help.