Skin cancer is a condition in which abnormal skin cells begin to grow at uncontrolled, accelerated rates. The vast majority of skin cancer cases are caused by UV radiation from the sun, which can damage skin cells and trigger mutations. Mutated skin cells may form tumors that become a threat to health and life. There are three primary forms of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma. Skin cancer can also develop from a precancerous condition called actinic keratosis.
Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancers and affects one in five Americans over the course of a lifetime. Even though skin cancer rates are quite high, there are many effective treatments that can fully eliminate it. The best method of dealing with skin cancer is prevention.
Skin Cancer Prevention
To protect yourself against skin cancer, you should minimize your exposure to the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. Daily use of sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, and clothing that protects your skin can greatly reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. When spending extended periods of time outside, wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher and reapply it every two hours. If you are sweating or participating in water activities you will need to reapply more often. You can further reduce your risk of skin cancer by avoiding sun exposure during peak sunlight hours when the sun is high overhead.
While a sun-kissed, tanned appearance may seem attractive and desirable, take care to avoid tanning and tanning booths, as both have been proven to increase your risk of skin cancer. Finally, examine your body from top to bottom at least once a month, and contact your dermatologist if you notice any unusual skin lesions, moles, growths, or spots. Get an annual skin exam from your dermatologist or physician to verify that your skin is cancer-free.
Skin Cancer Types and Treatments
Regular personal and dermatological skin examinations can lead to identifying precancerous skin lesions before they become a serious threat. Suspicious skin lesions, as well as precancerous and cancerous lesions, can be eliminated with skin cancer treatment. Depending upon the type of cancer and the histopathology (how the cancer appears microscopically), skin cancer may be treated in one or more of the following ways.
Actinic keratosis (AK) is a precancerous skin condition characterized by persistent, small (between two and six mm in diameter) rough spots or plaques of a red, pink, or brown color. These lesions are typically scaly or dry and may be surrounded by brown spots and broken blood vessels. AK patches may occasionally bleed in patients older than 40 years. Actinic keratosis is caused by UVB damage, and 10 percent of AK lesions will develop into skin cancer within just two years.
- Cryotherapy (Liquid Nitrogen): This quick, minimally invasive procedure uses liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy abnormal skin tissue. Short bursts of liquid nitrogen are delivered to the lesion, cutting off blood supply and causing ice crystals to form inside the cells so that they die.
- Topical Medications: Topical treatments including Aldara (Imiquimod), 5-Fluorouracil (Efudex® and Carac®), and Picato® (ingenol mebutate) can treat actinic keratosis. One or more treatments may be combined to yield the best results.
- Chemical Peels: A chemical peel removes damaged outer layers of skin and can be used to eliminate precancerous growths.
- Photodynamic Therapy (PDT): After cleansing the skin, the topical chemical LEVULAN® (5-aminolevulinic acid or 5-ALA) is applied to increase the skin cells’ sensitivity to certain wavelengths of light. After one to three hours, the LEVULAN® is washed from the skin, and the skin is then treated with intense pulsed light (IPL), sunlight or the Pulsed Dye Laser.
- CO₂ Laser: Fractional skin resurfacing uses laser energy to produce microscopic wounds in damaged skin, leaving bridges of healthy skin around them. New collagen and protective tissue then generate, and the healthy skin aids the healing process.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
BCC is the most common type of skin cancer. It develops within the basal cell layer, which is the deepest layer of skin. BCC appears as an open sore, a red patch of skin, or a shiny or pink growth, and it usually grows slowly.
- Excision: The abnormal skin growth is surgically removed.
- Electrodesiccation (Electrocautery) and Curettage: Careful scrapings and electrical pulses are delivered in a series to destroy the abnormal skin tissue.
- Topical Medications: Topical treatments such as Aldara (Imiquimod) and 5-Fluorouracil (Efudex® and Carac®) can treat BCC. One or more treatments may be combined when needed.
- Cryotherapy (Liquid Nitrogen): The cancerous cells are frozen and destroyed by applying liquid nitrogen in a quick, minimally invasive procedure.
- Mohs Micrographic Surgery: A small margin of skin tissue is taken around the lesion, then frozen and examined under a microscope mid-procedure. Once the margins appear clear, the incision is closed. This technique is valued for its ability to spare healthy skin.
- CO₂ Laser: Laser energy creates microscopic wounds in the damaged skin, leaving bridges of healthy skin. This healthy skin and the new collagen that forms work together to heal and replace the damaged skin.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common type of skin cancer. UV radiation significantly promotes the development of SCC. Even though it is slow-growing, SCC can spread to nearby tissues and bones and may become difficult to treat.
- Excision: The abnormal skin tissue is surgically removed.
- Electrodesiccation (Electrocautery) and Curettage: The abnormal tissue is destroyed through a series of careful scrapings and electrical pulses.
- Topical Medication: 5-Fluorouracil (Efudex® and Carac®) is used as a topical treatment for SCC. This antimetabolite can kill the cancer cells.
- Cryotherapy (Liquid Nitrogen): Short, quick bursts of liquid nitrogen are delivered to the SCC lesion, causing ice crystals to form inside the cells and cutting off their blood supply. This quick and minimally invasive procedure effectively destroys abnormal skin tissue.
- Mohs Micrographic Surgery: This skin-sparing technique takes a small margin of skin tissue around the lesion. The tissue is frozen and examined under a microscope until the margins are clear, at which point the incision is closed.
Melanoma is a serious type of skin cancer. It develops in skin cells that produce melanin, typically in areas that receive a lot of sun exposure. Even though melanoma accounts for very few skin cancer cases, it accounts for the vast majority of skin cancer deaths.
- Excision: The abnormal skin is surgically removed.
- Topical Medication: Aldara (Imiquimod) may be used as a topical adjuvant treatment for certain melanoma cases.
- Slow-Mohs Micrographic Surgery: For early-stage melanoma in-situ, Mohs micrographic surgery may be used. This technique removes a small margin of tissue around the melanoma lesion, sparing the surrounding skin. The tissue is frozen and microscopically examined to ensure clear margins, and then the incision is closed.
When caring for your skin, it is imperative that you protect your skin against UV radiation to guard against skin cancer. If you need your skin examined, you have a suspicious skin lesion, or you need skin cancer removal, we can help. Colorado Skin and Vein can give you effective treatment for skin cancer with the best aesthetic results after your treatment. Act now by contacting us today to get the quick treatment you need to ensure your health and safety. Request your personal consultation with us by calling 303.683.3235 or completing our online contact form today. Colorado Skin & Vein serves Englewood and the greater Denver, CO area.