Basal cell carcinoma starts in the inner-most level of the epidermis and tends to grow slowly. It usually forms on sun-exposed areas and often appears as a small dome-shaped bump. If left untreated, it can invade other areas.
Squamous cell carcinoma develops on skin that has been exposed to the sun for years. It occurs in the skin's upper layers. This may appear as an open sore, an elevated growth with a central depression; or a wart. The site can crust and bleed. If left untreated, this can spread to other areas as well.
Skin cancer can result from damage caused by ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds. This damage can lead to the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells, causing skin malignancies.
Skin cancers usually appear as changes to your skin, such as new growths or pre-cancerous lesions. While unusual skin growths may not start out as cancer, they could become cancerous over time so it is important to check your skin regularly for any changes. If you know you are at greater risk of developing skin cancer, make sure to get an annual skin evaluation with your primary physician or dermatologist.
Skin cancer prevention guidelines include:
- Limit sun exposure between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm when the sun's rays are the strongest.
- Cover up when in the sun; wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and a hat that shades your face, neck and ears.
- Use sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays and has a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.
- Do not use sunlamps or tanning booths, they are just as harmful as the sun when it comes to skin damage.
Your physician may examine your skin to check for signs of skin cancer. If an unusual lesion or mole is found, a skin sample may be taken and sent for laboratory testing to determine if the skin abnormality is cancer, as well as the type of skin cancer.
For skin cancer that is limited to the surface of the skin, a biopsy to surgically remove the entire lesion may be the only treatment needed.
Further diagnostic tests and treatments may be recommended depending on the type and extent of the skin cancer and include:
- Cryosurgery: The freezing of early skin cancers using liquid nitrogen.
- Excisional surgery: Cut out the cancerous tissue and a margin of healthy skin surrounding the tumor.
- Moh's skin-sparing surgery: Tissue is examined layer-by-layer to check for signs of cancer upon surgical removal to spare as much healthy tissue as possible. This usually is recommended for larger, recurring or more difficult-to-treat skin cancers.
- Curettage: Scraping away layers of cancer cells once most of the growth is surgically removed. This is followed by electro-desiccation or cryotherapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy to remove any cancer that may remain following surgery.
- Laser light therapy
- Immunotherapy or biological therapy
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