Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in the United States. At RI Skin Doc, we know these statistics can be frightening, especially when you find a mark on your skin that wasn’t there before.
With 30 years of experience providing skin cancer treatment in Rhode Island, our team of dermatology experts can examine your skin and determine quickly whether or not treatment is necessary. Three forms of skin cancer exist - malignant melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma - and we have the expertise to diagnose them all.
If you have concerns about skin cancer, don’t hesitate - contact us and set up an appointment today!
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that occurs in the cells that color the skin (melanocytes). It is more serious than the common basal cell or squamous cell skin cancers because it can spread to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system or the blood. It is the leading cause of all skin cancer-related deaths.
Although no one knows exactly what causes melanoma, one of the main risk factors appears to be exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from too much sun or even from tanning booths. However, people who are exposed to intense sun over a short period of time (such as weekend tanners) are more at risk for melanoma than people such as farmers or sailors, who have a more consistent daily sun exposure.
While melanoma can occur in people who are darkly pigmented, people with fair skin who sunburn or freckle easily - especially those with red or blond hair - are at greater risk. Painful, blistering sunburns, especially in childhood or adolescence, can also put people at risk. Melanoma also can run in families, especially those with a history of dysplastic nevus syndrome – a tendency to have many abnormally sized or shaped moles all over the body.
Often, melanoma is discovered during a routine checkup or when a patient brings a suspicious mole to a doctor's attention. Your doctor may want to perform a biopsy on a suspicious mole. A biopsy removes some or all of a mole or other growth for diagnosis by microscopic examination. For a suspicious mole, the doctor usually performs an excisional biopsy, which removes an elliptical wedge of skin that fully surrounds the mole and extends completely through the skin to enable the depth of the suspected melanoma to be accurately measured. The biopsy wound is closed with stitches and the sample is sent to the laboratory for analysis.
The first sign of melanoma is usually a change in the size, shape, or color of a mole. Another symptom is a change in how a mole feels; it can become tender, itchy, or hard. Melanoma can also appear on the body as a new mole.
Look at the following chart to see what kinds of things to watch for and to show your doctor:
Asymmetry. Melanoma (malignant) lesions may be irregular in shape (asymmetrical). Benign (nonmalignant) moles are typically round (symmetrical).
Border. Melanoma lesions may have irregular borders (ragged or notched edges). Benign moles usually have smooth, even borders.
Color. Melanoma lesions may contain many shades of brown, blue, or black. Benign moles are usually a single shade of brown.
Diameter. Melanoma lesions are often more than 6 millimeters in diameter (about the size of an eraser on a pencil). Benign moles are usually less than 6 millimeters in diameter.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer, and the least dangerous. Basal cell carcinomas grow slowly and very rarely spread to other parts of the body. If found and treated early, they have a cure rate of about 95%.
Chronic exposure to sunlight is the cause of almost all basal cell carcinomas, which occur most frequently on exposed parts of the body – the face, ears, neck, scalp, shoulders, and back. Rarely, however, tumors develop on non-exposed areas. In a few cases, contact with arsenic, exposure to radiation, and complications of burns, scars, vaccinations, or even tattoos are contributing factors.
Anyone with a history of frequent sun exposure can develop basal cell carcinoma (BCC), but people who have fair skin, light hair, and blue, green, or gray eyes are at the highest risk. Those whose occupations require long hours outdoors or who spend extensive leisure time in the sun are in particular jeopardy. Dark-skinned people are far less likely than fair-skinned people to develop skin cancer, but still need protection.
Basal cell carcinoma sometimes resembles non-cancerous skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema. Only trained physicians, usually dermatologists can diagnose it with certainty. However, two or more of the five most typical features listed here are often present in one BCC tumor:
Squamous cell carcinoma are the second most common skin cancer, afflicting more than 200,000 Americans each year. This arises from the epidermis and resembles the squamous cells that comprise most of the upper layers of the skin. Squamous cell cancers may occur on all areas of the body including the mucous membranes, but are most common in areas exposed to the sun.
Although squamous cell carcinomas usually remain confined to the epidermis for some time, they eventually penetrate the underlying tissues if not treated. In a small percentage of cases, they spread (metastasize) to distant tissues and organs. When this happens, they can be fatal. squamous cell carcinomas that metastasize most often arise on sites of chronic inflammatory skin conditions or on the mucous membranes or lips.
Chronic exposure to sunlight causes most cases of squamous cell carcinoma. Tumors appear most frequently on sun-exposed parts of the body: the face, neck, bald scalp, hands, shoulders, arms, and back. The rim of the ear and the lower lip are especially vulnerable to the development of these cancers. Squamous cell carcinomas may also occur where the skin has suffered certain types of injury, including:
In addition, chronic skin inflammation or medical conditions that suppress the immune system over an extended period of time may encourage development of squamous cell carcinoma.
Patients who are concerned about squamous cell carcinoma should look for any of these warning signs:
Skin cancer has the highest chance of being treatable when it is caught early, so don’t hesitate - if you have any questions or concerns about squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, or melanoma, contact the dermatology experts at RI Skin Doc as soon as possible.