SKIN CANCER: What You Need to Know
MIDWEST DERMATOLOGY, WITH MULTIPLE OFFICES IN OMAHA,
SPECIALIZES IN SKIN CANCER, WHICH IS THE MOST COMMON FORM OF CANCER.
– who are dermatologists –
can help you and your family with:
- Skin cancer symptoms and warning signs, including evaluating suspicious moles and skin lesions.
- Treating the various types of skin cancer with advanced options such as Mohs surgery.
- Preventing skin cancer through regular examinations, education and MoleWatch Exams.
Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, can be detected by using the ABCDE warning signs. Look at your moles keeping these factors in mind:
- Asymmetry – Is one half of a mole a significantly different shape or size than the other side?
- Border – Does a mole have an irregular or uneven border?
- Color – Are any of your moles unusually colored, or have they changed color recently?
- Diameter – Do you have moles larger around than 2 mm, which is about the size of a pencil eraser?
- Evolving – Do you have moles that are new or that have changed significantly?
Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, which are typically less serious forms of skin cancer, have similar symptoms. Keep an eye out for:
- Raised bumps or nodules
- Non-healing pimples or sores
- Red, scaly patches with irregular borders
- Pink growths
- Lesions that are shiny or pearl-like in color or appearance
- Lesions typically occur on the face, scalp, ears, chest and back
- Wart-like growths that bleed or crust over
If you notice any of these warning signs, make an appointment with one of our dermatologists by calling (402) 552-2555.
Skin cancer diagnosis starts with determining the type of skin cancer. The reason it is important to determine the type of cancer is because the type impacts the treatment options that may be available to you. Patients may be diagnosed with:
- Actinic keratosis, or pre-cancers
- Basal cell carcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma
- Malignant melanoma
Skin cancer diagnosis involves a visual examination of the skin by one of our experienced dermatologists. If we suspect skin cancer, we take a small skin sample (known as a biopsy) and analyze it to confirm whether cancerous cells are present.
Pre-cancers, or actinic keratosis, are very common skin lesions that may eventually turn into squamous cell skin cancer. More than 50 million Americans are estimated to have some of what are often called AKs.
Pre-cancers develop because of chronic sun exposure and a combination of genetic risk factors like skin type and environmental factors such as where you live.
Midwest Dermatology can’t predict which pre-cancers will turn into something more serious, so we typically remove AKs with treatments like:
- Liquid nitrogen spray that destroys the pre-cancerous cells
- Electrodessication, in which the AK is “zapped” and then simply peeled away.
- Aldara prescription cream that helps boost the body’s immune system and shrink AKs from the inside out.
If left untreated, pre-cancers can turn into squamous cell skin cancer, which can be disfiguring and even cause death.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer, affecting nearly 3 million Americans each year. Basal cell carcinoma develops when the basal cells that line the deepest layer of the epidermis, which is the outermost layer of skin, grow uncontrollably.
Midwest Dermatology treats basal cell skin cancer with:
- Mohs surgery, a specialized surgical procedure that traces the edges of the cancer microscopically to ensure that it is completely removed. Mohs surgery is used in highly visible areas such as the face where maximum tissue conservation ensures a good cosmetic and functional outcome, and when skin cancer types are particularly aggressive.
- Standard excision surgery, where the cancerous cells are scraped or cut away. Excision is excellent option if the cancer is located in an areas of the body that do not require complex cosmetic repair such as the back and arms.
Basal cell skin cancer almost never spreads to vital organs, but if left untreated, it can damage surrounding skin tissue and even bone and cartilage under the cancer.
Squamous cell carcinoma is a common form of skin cancer, affecting about 700,000 Americans each year. Squamous cell carcinoma develops when the squamous cells in the epidermis, which is the outer layer of skin, turn abnormal and grow uncontrollably.
Midwest Dermatology treats squamous cell skin cancer with:
- Mohs surgery, a specialized surgical procedure that traces the edges of the cancer microscopically. Mohs is the preferred manner of removal for most squamous cell carcinomas because physicians are able to ensure the complete removal of all cancer cells to greatly reduce the chance for recurrence.
- Standard excision surgery. A wide excision removing the cancer and some surrounding skin can be very effective, but may not be desirable if the skin cancer is located in an area that is highly visible or hard to repair.
Squamous cell skin cancer can spread rapidly, and if left untreated, it can cause severe damage to skin tissue and even death.
Melanoma is the most rare and serious form of skin cancer. It accounts for about 5 percent of all skin cancer cases, and the number of cases has been rising steadily for the last 30 years.
It develops when the melanocytes, cells that produce color in the skin and are responsible for moles, start multiplying rapidly and develop into tumors. Some melanomas develop out of moles, and many cases are linked to heavy sun exposure – like very bad childhood sunburns.
Midwest Dermatology physicians treat melanoma with excisional surgery. Our dermatologists remove the cancerous tissue by surgically removing the cancer and surrounding tissue. The wound is closed with stitches. Advanced melanoma may also be treated with chemotherapy or radiation by other cancer specialists.
Unlike other skin cancers, melanoma can spread deep into the body and may affect other organs. It’s important to watch for the ABCDEs and contact Midwest Dermatology if you see a suspicious growth.
Mohs surgery, also known as micrographic surgery, is the treatment of choice for basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers at Midwest Dermatology. Our dermatologists use it because it:
- Has the highest cure rate compared to other treatments; upwards of 95 percent!
- Removes the most cancer AND preserves healthy skin because surgeons remove thin layers of cancerous tissue, one layer at a time.
- Removes the root of the cancer.
- Leaves the smallest scar possible.
- Has a shorter recovery time and involves fewer complications.
Cost much less than other treatments because of the reduction in recurrence.
Instead of estimating how far out the skin cancer has spread, or how deep its roots go, our dermatologists examine each layer of tissue under a microscope to determine if cancer cells are present. When the tissue sample shows no cancer cells are present, the wound is closed with stitches or is bandaged up so it can heal naturally.
Because it can help prevent disfigurement, Mohs is also a preferred treatment for skin cancers that do not have clear edges, or skin cancers on the face. Mohs is not used to treat melanoma because that disease requires a different type of pathology study to trace its roots.
Multiple factors cause skin cancer, but exposure to ultraviolet light – found in sunlight – is a common contributing factor and one that you have some control over. Our dermatologists recommend:
- Limiting exposure to the sun when its rays are the strongest, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Wearing hats, long-sleeved clothing and clothing that is darker or is tightly woven.
- Wearing sun block with a sun protection factor, SPF, of at least 30.
- Protecting your eyes and lips with sunglasses and SPF lip balms.
- Examining skin and moles regularly. Use the Midwest Dermatology MoleWatch Map to track the state of your skin.
- Avoiding sunburns.
Numerous independent studies have consistently shown that indoor tanning increases the risk of developing all forms of skin cancer, including deadly melanoma. So bypass the tanning bed and reach for safer self-tanning lotions. Or try one of the newer spray tans that are increasing in popularity.