Have you ever noticed a mole on your skin and wondered if it’s normal or cause for concern? Or maybe you know you spent too much time in the sun as a kid or hit up the tanning beds a few too many times. If so, it’s important to take skin cancer risk very seriously.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, with over 5 million cases diagnosed each year. And the thing is, it can happen to anyone, even those who have taken precautions to protect their skin from the sun.
It’s shocking to know that skin cancer beats out breast, lung, and prostate cancer in terms of annual cases. But the good news is that while skin cancer can be a serious and life-threatening disease, it’s also highly preventable.
With Skin Cancer Awareness Month upon us, it’s more important than ever to spread the word about the importance of wearing sunscreen, the dangers of unprotected sun exposure, and the importance of early detection. So whether you’re worried about a suspicious mole or want to be proactive about your skin health, now is the perfect time to take action and encourage others to do the same!
SKIN CANCER AWARENESS MONTH
May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, an important time for healthcare providers and skin cancer advocacy groups to raise awareness about skin cancer and encourage everyone to take proactive steps to reduce their risk.
As doctors, we might play a vital role in speaking up and sharing facts, but it is actually the public that plays the most crucial part in Skin Cancer Awareness Month. People often listen to other people more than they do the medical community, so it’s vital that you speak up about the dangers of skin cancer and share the facts.
Additionally, Skin Cancer Awareness Month serves as a friendly reminder for you to wear sunscreen, make an appointment for your yearly skin check, and encourage your friends and family to do the same.
The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer before turning 70. Skin Cancer Awareness Month provides an opportunity to share the facts about skin cancer, know your risk factors, understand how to prevent skin cancer and recognize its early signs, and the importance of regular skin cancer screenings.
By partnering with patients, families, and communities during Skin Cancer Awareness Month in May, we can save lives and make a real impact in the fight against skin cancer.
WHAT IS SKIN CANCER?
Skin cancer is a type of cancer that affects the skin cells. The disease occurs when skin cells start to grow abnormally. You might not think skin cancer is a very big deal, but skin cancer is known to be the most prevalent form of cancer in the United States and is expected to result in thousands of deaths in 2023.
It’s crucial to be aware of your specific type of skin cancer, as it can influence your treatment options and prognosis. If you’re uncertain about the kind of skin cancer you’ve been diagnosed with, it’s advisable to consult with a skin expert for accurate information.
Many types of skin cancer present as a visible growth or sore (tumor) on the skin, but not all types of skin cancer necessarily form a tumor. In some types of skin cancer, cancer cells are found only in the top layer of the skin and haven’t spread deeper into the skin or other parts of the body. In such cases, a visible tumor may not always be present. However, the abnormal growth of skin cells is still considered cancer.
Different types of skin cancer can vary in appearance and seriousness. Skin cancer can generally appear as a change in the skin’s color or texture or the formation of a lump or sore that does not heal.
While skin cancer can be deadly if left untreated or spreads to other parts of the body if detected early, it can often be treated successfully, which is exactly why Skin Cancer Awareness Month in May is so important.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT CLASSIFICATIONS AND TYPES OF SKIN CANCER?
Understanding the classification and type of skin cancer you have is crucial, as some types, such as melanoma, are more aggressive and have a higher risk of spreading than others.
To determine the prognosis and treatment options for skin cancer, the National Cancer Institute maintains the SEER database, which classifies skin cancers as localized, regional, or distant based on the extent of their spread.
- Localized Cancer – Cancer that hasn’t spread beyond its point of origin in the skin.
- Regional Cancer – Has spread to nearby tissues or lymph nodes.
- Distant Cancer – The cancer has spread to distant areas of the body, such as the liver, lungs, or other parts of the skin.
In addition to classifications, there are different types of skin cancer. Each type has distinct characteristics and may require different treatment approaches. There are many types of skin cancer. Below are the three most common types, their distinctive signs, and three other rare but very serious forms of skin cancer the public needs to be aware of.
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
The most common type of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma. It grows in the basal cells at the bottom layer of the epidermis. The basal cells create new layers of skin as the outer layers die and flake off.
The bad news is that basal cell skin cancer grows rapidly and is one of the least deadly skin cancer types. The good news is because tumors grow quickly, they are easy to detect early on.
Furthermore, basal cell cancer has a very low risk of spreading to the body’s internal systems.
Signs of basal cell tumors differ from patient to patient. However, basal cell tumors have certain similarities.
- Open sores that don’t heal
- Dome-like growths that are pink, brown, or black
- Small pearly bumps that grow over time
- Skin growths with a waxy, hard texture
- Scaly patches that are red or pink
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
The second most common type of skin cancer is squamous cell carcinoma. Tumors occur in the middle and surface levels of the dermis.
Most cases of squamous cell carcinoma are caused by UV exposure from the everyday sun or tanning beds. Other causes include genital warts or HPV infections. As a result, tumors can also occur in or around the anus or genitals.
As basal cell lesions differ from patient to patient, so do squamous cell lesions. Signs of squamous cell carcinoma include:
- Pink, waxy growths
- Pink or reddish scaling or scabs
- Sharp, thorn-like stabbing pain around the lesion
- Lesions with raised, crusty edges
- Rough sores around the edge of the mouth
- Raised lesions with pink edges and scaly centers
- Squamous cell cases grow moderately fast. It is best to catch these as early as possible because the cancer cells can spread to the lymph nodes and even to the lungs.
Of all the types of skin cancer, melanoma has the highest mortality rate. Melanoma is named after the cells where cancer develops, which are the melanocytes that produce melanin pigments in the skin.
The beginning signs of melanoma present primarily as new moles. It can also appear as a change to existing moles. The trouble is that detection requires the removal of calls for closer inspection.
Melanomas present in various shapes, sizes, and colors. To detect this cancer early, doctors use the following ABCDE guidelines to assess the warning signs and the risk to the patient.
- Asymmetry: Moles of irregular shape and size.
- Border: Ragged, notched, blurred, or otherwise irregular border. The pigment can even start spreading from the mole to the surrounding skin.
- Color: Melanoma skin cancer spots can present in multiple uneven shades and colors.
Colors include black, brown, tan, white, gray, red, pink, and even blue.
- Diameter: Melanomas usually increase in diameter. Some may be small, but they generally grow to about 6 millimeters or more.
- Evolving: The precancerous mole has changed once or more during the past few weeks or months.
If you have a mole that matches these criteria, you should see a skin cancer surgeon in TN for a skin cancer exam.
Merkel Cell Skin Cancer (MCC)
Merkel Cell Skin Cancer (MCC) is a rare and aggressive cancer that usually starts in hormone-producing cells beneath the skin and in hair follicles. While MCC is relatively uncommon, its incidence has risen, especially among individuals with weakened immune systems or prolonged sun exposure
Early detection and treatment of MCC are essential, as this cancer tends to spread quickly. The most common trait of merkel cell skin cancer is painless, firm, shiny lumps on the skin, most typically found on the head and neck. These lumps can be red, pink, or blue in color. MCC can also cause other symptoms, such as itching, bleeding, and ulceration, but these are less common.
Regular skin checks and early detection are key to improving outcomes with MCC.
Kaposi Sarcoma (KS)
Kaposi Sarcoma (KS) is a type of skin cancer caused by the human herpesvirus 8. While it is relatively rare in the general population, it is important to know about this cancer because it has a higher prevalence among people with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS, as well as among organ transplant patients and certain ethnic groups.
KS can be aggressive, spread quickly, and be potentially life-threatening in compromised individuals. However, in people with healthy immune systems, it may not spread as quickly or be as deadly.
The most common signs of KS are lesions or growths on the skin or inside the mouth that are usually reddish or purplish in color. They might be flat or raised and can be painful or itchy in some cases. If you notice any unusual growths or lesions on your skin or in your mouth, it is important to have them evaluated by a doctor.
Lymphoma of the Skin
Lymphoma of the skin is a rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that begins in the white blood cells called lymphocytes, which are present in the skin. It can occur in people of any age but is most common in older adults.
The distinctive signs of lymphoma of the skin may include:
- Patches, plaques, or nodules on the skin that are typically red, purple, or pink
- Itching or skin irritation
- Ulcers or sores that do not heal
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Fatigue or unexplained weight loss
It is important to note that other skin conditions may also cause these signs. Hence, a proper diagnosis from a healthcare professional is essential.
See a doctor if you notice any unusual changes on your skin that do not go away. Skin lymphoma is typically treatable, especially when it is detected early.
WHAT IS THE WORST TYPE OF SKIN CANCER?
The worst type of skin cancer is melanoma. This is because it can quickly metastasize or spread to other body parts, such as the lymph nodes, lungs, or brain, making it much harder to treat. Melanoma is also more likely to be fatal compared to other types of skin cancer.
Melanoma can develop from existing moles or as a new growth on the skin. It can also appear on areas of the skin that are not usually exposed to the sun, such as the soles of the feet or inside the mouth.
If not treated early, Melanoma can be difficult to control and life-threatening. However, early detection and treatment can significantly improve the chances of survival. That is why it is crucial to monitor any changes in the skin and seek medical attention if you notice any suspicious moles or lesions.
WHAT CAUSES SKIN CANCER?
The most common cause of skin cancer is UV radiation from sunshine and UV tanning beds.
When human skin cells are exposed to prolonged UV radiation, it causes skin damage and damages DNA.
And it doesn’t take getting burned that many times to increase your risk of skin cancer. Your risk for melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, doubles if you’ve had more than five sunburns! An active HPV infection is another possible cause of skin cancer.
Remember that causes are separate from risk factors, which we will discuss next. For example, having light or fair skin does not cause skin cancer, but it does increase the chances someone has for developing skin cancer.
SKIN CANCER RISK FACTORS
A risk factor refers to anything that increases an individual’s chances of getting a particular disease, like cancer. Being aware of the risk factors for skin cancer is crucial because it may be possible to reduce the chances of contracting it.
Risk factors differ depending on the type of cancer. Some can be changed, such as smoking and overexposure to sunlight. However, other risk factors, such as age or family history, can’t be modified. Nevertheless, having one or several risk factors does not necessarily mean you will get skin cancer, and some individuals who develop skin cancer may have no known risk factors.
The World Health Organization identifies a wide array of risk factors for skin cancer– here is a list of the most common.
- Fair Skin – People with light skin that burns easily are more prone to sun damage from all types of UV rays.
- Sunburns – Getting a sunburn, even a minor one, is the most common form of skin damage. Chances for skin cancer increase dramatically after only a few sunburns.
- Prolonged Sun Exposure – An estimated 90 percent of skin aging is caused by the sun. The longer your skin is exposed, the more damage will be done. You should always protect your skin from the rays of the sun.
- Living in a Sunny Climate – There’s nothing wrong with living in a sunshine state; it just means you have a higher risk of excessive exposure to UV rays. If you live in a sunny climate, remember to protect your skin on a daily basis.
- Excessive UV Tanning – While not the same as the natural sun, tanning beds still damage your skin through UV radiation. In fact, more people develop skin cancer because of indoor tanning than lung cancer because of smoking!
- Living at a High Altitude – UV rays are more intense at higher altitudes because they take less time to reach the earth. Remember to protect your skin even on cloudy days at a high altitude.
- Abnormal Moles – Having moles is common, but they can become abnormal and develop into skin cancer. Keep an eye on any moles on your body, and use the ABCDE guidelines outlined earlier to watch for the early signs of skin cancer.
- Family History – A family history of skin cancer may mean you’re more at risk for developing skin cancer.
- Past Cases of Skin Cancer – Cancer leads to permanent damage. Skin cancer is especially a sign of heightened risk for recurrent cases.
- Exposure to HPV – The HPV virus can cause damage to skin cells and increases the risk of cancer.
- Age – Older people tend to have weaker immune systems. Additionally, as time passes, people are exposed to more visible light. But don’t think that skin cancer can’t happen when you are young. In fact, melanoma is one of the most common cancers in people younger than 30 (especially younger women). Additionally, melanoma that runs in families may occur at a younger age.
- Ethnicity – White people are more likely to develop skin cancer than other ethnicities. But if your skin is darker, that doesn’t mean you won’t get skin cancer. In fact, people of color have higher percentages of melanoma of the palms, soles, and nail beds (acral lentiginous melanoma) than Caucasians, and the estimated five-year melanoma survival rate for black patients is only 70 percent, compared to 94 percent for white patients.
- Gender – Before age 50, the risk for skin cancer is higher for women; after age 50, the risk is higher in men. While it varies by age, men are generally more likely to develop melanoma than women.
- Lifestyle – An outdoor-oriented lifestyle exposes you to more UV rays. Smoking and excessive alcohol use also lead to greater risks of cancer.
- Immunosuppression – People who take immunosuppressants for organ transplants or metal implants face a greater cancer risk due to their weakened immune system.
WHY ARE REGULAR SKIN CANCER SCREENINGS IMPORTANT?
Regular skin cancer screenings are essential for detecting skin cancer early when it is most treatable. This is especially important because many types of skin cancer, including melanoma, may not show any symptoms until they have already progressed to a more advanced stage.
By getting yearly skin checks with a skin specialist, you can identify any suspicious moles or spots and take action before they become a serious problem. Even if you have no history of skin cancer or do not believe you are at high risk, getting regular screenings is important, as skin cancer can happen to anyone.
In addition to professional screenings, performing self-skin checks at home is also important. This involves examining your skin from head to toe, including hard-to-see areas like the scalp and back. If you notice any changes in the color, shape, or size of a mole or spot, or if you develop any new spots, it is crucial to bring this to your doctor’s or dermatologist’s attention.
May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, an important reminder to schedule a skin cancer screening and practice good sun safety habits. Remember, early detection is key to successful treatment, and the best way to protect yourself is through regular screenings and self-checks.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I GET CHECKED FOR SKIN CANCER?
You should get screened for skin cancer in person at least once per year. However, that doesn’t mean you should wait to get a mole checked out if you’re worried about it. Whenever you notice any changes in your skin, such as the appearance of new growths, changes in shape or size of existing moles or marks, or changes in the texture of the skin, you should schedule an appointment with a skin specialist as soon as possible.
If you have a history of skin cancer or have risk factors such as fair skin or a family history of the disease, you may need to get screened more frequently than once a year. Your dermatologist can guide you on how often you should be screened based on your risk factors.
If, for some reason, you can’t physically come to our offices, it is possible to get advice from a skin care professional online without an in-office appointment. If you notice a spot in an easy-to-reach area, you can take a high-quality picture and send it to an expert for evaluation.
It’s also important to perform self-checks in between professional screenings. This can help you detect any changes in your skin early on and bring them to the attention of your dermatologist. Skin self-exams can be done in the comfort of your own home. There are many resources available online to help guide you through the process.
If you haven’t had a skin check this year, Skin Cancer Awareness Month in May is an excellent time to schedule your yearly skin check, or if you’ve already had a skin check this year or have scheduled one for later in the year, it’s a great time to perform a self-examination. Remember, early detection and treatment of skin cancer can significantly improve outcomes and save lives.
HOW TO HELP PREVENT SKIN CANCER
Preventing skin cancer is all about taking small steps that can make a big difference. By being proactive about your health, adopting healthy habits, and encouraging others to do the same, you can lower the risk of developing skin cancer.
Whether you’re looking for ways to protect yourself or help others, these five simple tips can help positively impact your skin health and the skin health of those around you.
1: Protect Your Skin
The most effective way to prevent skin cancer is to protect your skin from the damaging effects of UV light. This means using sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 whenever you go outside, even if it’s just for a short time or a cloudy day. It also means wearing protective clothing such as hats, long-sleeved shirts, and sunglasses when you’re out in the sun. Avoiding the sun during peak hours (10 am-4 pm) and seeking shade when possible can also help reduce your risk.
2: Perform A Skin Cancer Self Exam
Performing a skin self-exam regularly is an essential part of skin cancer prevention. It is recommended to do this monthly and especially after sun exposure. Check your skin for any moles or spots that have changed in size, shape, or color and for new spots. Take note of anything that looks unusual or has changed over time and discuss it with your doctor.
3: Get Regular Skin Cancer Screenings
Annual skin cancer screenings by a dermatologist are a vital part of early detection and treatment. Even if you diligently protect your skin and perform self-exams, it is still possible to miss early signs of skin cancer. A dermatologist can thoroughly examine your skin, looking for any suspicious spots or lesions that may be cancerous.
4: Educate Yourself, Your Family, and Others
Learning about skin cancer and its risk factors can help you make informed decisions about your skin health. Talk to your doctor, read up on skin cancer statistics and prevention methods, and share this information with your loved ones. Encourage others to take sun protection seriously and to get regular skin cancer screenings.
5: Advocate For Skin Cancer Awareness
Advocating for skin cancer awareness can help encourage others to take skin cancer prevention seriously. Encourage your friends and family members to learn about skin cancer risk factors and prevention methods and get regular screenings. Use social media to share important information about skin cancer prevention and early detection. Consider getting involved in local skin cancer awareness events or advocating for skin cancer prevention at the legislative level. Remember, everyone can play a role in preventing skin cancer.
WHAT ARE THE AVAILABLE TREATMENTS FOR SKIN CANCER?
Skin cancer treatments vary depending on the type, size, and location of the cancer. If you have been diagnosed with skin cancer, your doctor will determine the best treatment based on these factors.
That said, here are some of the available treatments for skin cancer:
- Topical Medications: Some early-stage skin cancers can be treated with topical creams or ointments that are applied directly to the skin. These medications work by stimulating the immune system to attack and destroy cancer cells.
- Cryotherapy: This treatment involves freezing the cancer cells with liquid nitrogen. This is often used for precancerous growths, such as actinic keratoses.
- Mohs Surgery: This is a precise surgical technique used to treat skin cancer. It is often recommended for large, aggressive cancers or cancer in areas where preserving healthy tissue is important. The procedure involves removing thin layers of skin one at a time and examining them under a microscope until no cancer cells are found.
- Excisional Surgery: This is a common procedure that involves removing the entire cancerous area and some surrounding healthy tissue. The wound is then closed with sutures or a skin graft.
- Radiation Therapy: This treatment involves using high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. It is often used in conjunction with other treatments or for cancers that cannot be removed with surgery.
- Photodynamic Therapy: This newer treatment involves applying a photosensitizing agent to the skin, which is then activated by light, causing the cancer cells to die.
As you can see, many techniques are used to treat skin cancer. Early stages can be treated with creams, excision, and ablation. Later stages may require more intensive surgeries and radiation therapy.
Dr. Garza works with dermatologists around Nashville to help patients who have had their skin cancer removed and need further surgery for a complete repair. If you have been diagnosed with skin cancer or had Mohs surgery, Dr. Garza can help.
SKIN CANCER SCREENINGS AT GARZA PLASTIC SURGERY
At Garza Plastic Surgery, we make it a priority to address the issue of skin cancer. Collaborating with dermatologists across the city, we assist patients with various skin cancer needs, ranging from uncomplicated removals to more intricate procedures for larger areas or post-Mohs surgery.
Nestled in the scenic locality of Sylvan Park, just outside the vibrant city of Nashville, TN, Dr. Robert Garza is dedicated to providing skin cancer screenings and treatments. Don’t hesitate to reach out to our office today to schedule an appointment for your skin cancer screening.