Q&A: Skin Cancer and Skin Care
There’s nothing like a day in the sunshine. Most of us want to be outdoors enjoying our days, whether it be spring, summer, fall, or winter. But whatever the season, you should always be thinking about taking good care of your skin to avoid skin cancer.
What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer is the abnormal growth of cells on your body. Most often those cells develop on skin that has been exposed to the sun. Skin cancer, however, can occur on skin that is not ordinarily exposed to the sun.
Is there more than one type of skin cancer?
Yes. There are three major types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma. BCC grows on skin that has been exposed to sun, and is the least risky form of skin cancer. SCC is the second-most common type of skin cancer, usually appearing on the head, neck, chest, upper back, ears, lips, arms, legs, and hands, where skin has been exposed to UV rays from the sun or tanning beds. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. If it is not caught early and it spreads, it can be very difficult to treat.
How can I tell if I have skin cancer?
Only a medical provider can diagnose skin cancer, but there are skin changes that you can look for. Early detection is the best way to successfully treat it. BCC can appear as a pearly or waxy bump on the skin, a flat flesh-colored or brown lesion, or a bleeding sore that scabs and heals, but then comes back. SCC may look like a dome-shaped bump or a red, scaly patch of skin. Melanoma signs include a large, brownish spot with darker speckles, a mole that changes size or color, a small lesion with irregular borders (which can have portions that are red, pink, blue, or blackish-blue in color), or a painful lesion that itches and burns.
How is skin cancer diagnosed?
Your provider will examine your skin to see if there are areas that are likely to be skin cancer. Suspicious areas will be tested through a biopsy. A biopsy removes cells or skin samples by shaving the portion of skin off with a type of razor, using a punch tool to remove a section of deeper layers of skin, or by excision, where a scalpel removes an entire bump or a larger area of abnormal skin. The removed skin is sent to a laboratory for testing.
How is skin cancer treated?
Treatment for skin cancer depends on the type of cancer and where it is located. Small cancers on the surface of the skin might only require one biopsy to remove the growth. Other treatment options include freezing areas with liquid nitrogen, cutting out the cancerous tissue and some of the surrounding healthy skin, or more extensive surgery to remove skin layer by layer and examine each layer for cancerous cells. Skin cancer also may be treated with radiation and chemotherapy.
How can I protect myself?
Skin cancer is the most preventable form of cancer. The best protection is to limit sun exposure, especially between 10am and 4 pm when the sun is strongest. When you are in the sun, cover up with clothing, including a hat and sunglasses. Always use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, in any season, on exposed skin. Reapply after swimming or excessive sweating. Avoid tanning and getting sunburned, and never use tanning beds. Also, examine your skin from head to toe, every month.
What resources does Weeks offer for dealing with skin cancer?
Your first resource is your primary care provider, who can help diagnose and treat skin cancer. Your provider also can refer you to a specialist, such as a surgeon or dermatologist, for further treatment if needed. Weeks also offers in-house oncology services with our partnership with Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center, one of the leading cancer treatment centers in the country.
For more information about skin cancer or to schedule an appointment, call 603-788-5095.