Skin Cancer

Basal cell carcinoma

The most common form of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma. Basal cell carcinoma is usually caused by exposure to sunlight and/or indoor tanning. Although not often life-threatening, basal cell carcinoma can be highly disfiguring if left untreated. Warning signs include:

  • An open sore that bleeds, oozes or crusts, or does not heal
  • A persistent reddish patch or irritated area
  • A shiny bump or nodule that is pearly or translucent
  • A pink growth with a slightly elevated, rolled border and a crusted indentation in the center
  • A scar-like area that is white, yellow, or waxy and often has poorly defined borders

If any of the warning signs or other changes in the skin are noticed, examination by a Board-certified dermatologist is recommended.

Treatment is usually based on several factors including the type, size, depth, and location of the tumor, the patient’s age and general health, and the likely cosmetic outcome of the specific treatment. Most treatments can be performed in the dermatologist’s office or an outpatient surgical unit. Home application of a topical medication may also be available for superficial lesions.

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Malignant Melanoma

Malignant melanoma is a potentially life-threatening skin cancer derived from pigment-producing cells. Melanoma has a higher fatality rate than basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. It accounts for more than 80 percent of all deaths from skin cancer. The causes are not yet known. Suspected risk factors include a family history of melanoma, numerous moles or atypical moles, overexposure to ultraviolet light, fair skin, and previous history of melanoma.

Any moles exhibiting the ABCDE's of malignant melanoma should be evaluated by a Board-certified dermatologist. A biopsy may be performed to confirm the diagnosis. Treatment is based on the tumor's location, thickness, and progression, as well as the patient's age, health, medical history, and preferences.

Early detection and treatment greatly increase the likelihood of total cure. Self-examination is the best way to find melanoma early.

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Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinomas often look like scaly red patches, open sores, elevated growths with a central depression, or warts; they may crust or bleed. Accounting for about 10 percent of all skin cancers, squamous cell carcinoma is mainly caused by cumulative ultraviolet light exposure over the course of a lifetime. It can become disfiguring and sometimes, deadly, if allowed to grow.

Squamous cell carcinoma occurs most commonly on sun-exposed areas of the skin, but it may occur on all parts of the body, including the mucous membranes and genitals. At an early stage, squamous cell carcinoma is almost always curable. Left untreated, however, it can penetrate the underlying tissue and spread to other parts of the body.

Treatment of squamous cell carcinoma is based on the type, size, location, and depth of the tumor, as well as the patient’s age and general health. Most treatments can be performed in a dermatologist’s office or an outpatient surgical center.

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Photos used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology