Understanding Skin Cancer

in Health & Wellness

Skin cancer is a malignant tumor from cells of the skin. More than 2 million Americans are diagnosed with it every year, making it one of the most common forms of cancer diagnosed in the U.S.

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Skin cancer is a malignant tumor from cells of the skin. More than 2 million Americans are diagnosed with it every year, making it one of the most common forms of cancer diagnosed in the U.S.

Fortunately, the majority of skin cancer is curable with early intervention. The most common types are basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, which are highly curable. Melanoma is the third most common skin cancer and arises from melanocytes, which are much more aggressive than the other non-melanoma types. Melanoma is more dangerous than the other types and causes the most deaths. The majority of skin cancers are the non-melanoma variety.

Skin Cancer Types

Melanoma can develop in a pre-existing mole or as a dark spot on the body, most commonly on the head or neck, the back, or the back of the legs. It is characterized by a mole that looks uneven in terms of its border, shape or color. Early detection is the key. It is very important to seek evaluation from a health professional for any suspicious lesions on your skin.

Non-melanoma skin cancers can be either basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma. Basal cell carcinoma often develops as a waxy spot that may crust and bleed when bumped. It tends to grow very slowly, over months to years, and although potentially quite disfiguring and locally invasive, it rarely metastasizes or moves to other parts of the body.

Squamous cell carcinoma often looks like a mound of tissue or wounded skin that doesn’t heal. Although not as dangerous as melanoma or many forms of internal cancer, squamous cell carcinoma will occasionally spread to the local lymph glands and on to the rest of the body.

If you are diagnosed with a type of skin cancer, your doctor may recommend surgery as the best option for removing cancer and preventing its spread. Depending on the type of skin cancer and how much skin and tissue around cancer needs to be removed, your doctor may recommend reconstructive surgery to replace the skin and tissue and to minimize scarring.

Plastic surgeons have experience with all types of reconstruction necessary after skin cancer removal and have performed a wide range of types of skin grafts and tissue transfers. They are fully skilled at restoring the skin cancer site so that it looks like the skin around it.

Most of these surgeries can be performed in an outpatient setting and many can be performed under local anesthesia.

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Author: Dr. Angie Song, MD, Otolaryngologist

Dr. Song is an otolaryngologist, treating patients with complications, diseases, and disorders of the head and neck – including the ears, nose, and throat (ENT). A veteran of the U.S. Army, she earned her medical degree at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in 1993. She completed her residency at Madigan Healthcare System and Fitzsimons Army Medical Center. She retired from the Army as a Major.

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