Skin Cancer Information

Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. It occurs when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells (most often caused by ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds) triggers mutations, or genetic defects, that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors. Skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer. If you have skin cancer, it is important to know which type you have because it affects your treatment options and your prognosis. If you are not sure which type of skin cancer you have, ask your doctor so you can get the right information.

Skin cancers include melanoma, basal cell, and squamous cell. Basal and squamous cell are common and treatment is very effective. Malignant melanoma can be difficult to treat. Early diagnosis and treatment can increase the survival rate from melanoma. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, with more than 3 million Americans diagnosed with the disease each year. Melanoma, meanwhile, accounts for 1 percent of skin cancers, but it is responsible for the vast majority of skin cancer deaths. In 2017, an estimated 52,170 men and 34,940 women will have been diagnosed with melanoma.

Skin cancers may be caused by too much ultraviolet radiation (UV) exposure from the sun or from artificial sources, such as indoor tanning beds or sun lamps. UV light damages skin cells, increasing the risk for skin cancer. Outdoor UV light is stronger the closer you are the equator or if you live in higher altitudes, so it is important to take precautions, such as wearing sunscreen and protective clothing. Skin cancers are staged to measure how advanced they are, which helps determine the course of treatment. Many skin cancers can be removed with minor surgery using local anesthesia, often at a dermatologist’s office. More complex cases, such as melanoma, require the expertise of a medical oncologist. Melanomas that are localized may also be surgically removed, along with surrounding tissue that may have cancer cells in the margins around the tumor.

Skin cancers, including melanoma, are staged to measure how advanced they are, which helps determine the course of treatment. Many skin cancers can be removed with minor surgery using local anesthesia, often at a dermatologist’s office. More complex cases, such as melanoma, require the expertise of a medical oncologist. Melanomas that are localized may also be surgically removed, along with surrounding tissue that may have cancer cells in the margins around the tumor.

Many people, especially those who have fair coloring or have had extensive sun exposure, should periodically check their entire body for suggestive moles and lesions. Have your primary healthcare professional or a skin specialist (dermatologist) check any moles or spots that concern you. See your healthcare professional to check your skin if you notice any changes in the size, shape, color, or texture of pigmented areas (such as darker areas of skin or moles). If you have skin cancer, your skin specialist or dermatologist or cancer specialist will talk to you about symptoms of metastatic disease that might require care in a hospital.

Living with cancer presents many new challenges for you and for your family and friends. You will probably have many worries about how the cancer will affect you and your ability to “live a normal life,” that is, to care for your family and home, to hold your job, and to continue the friendships and activities you enjoy. Many people feel anxious and depressed. Some people feel angry and resentful; others feel helpless and defeated. For most people with cancer, talking about their feelings and concerns helps. Your friends and family members can be very supportive. They may be hesitant to offer support until they see how you are coping. Don’t wait for them to bring it up. If you want to talk about your concerns, let them know. Some people don’t want to “burden” their loved ones or prefer talking about their concerns with a more neutral professional. A social worker, counselor, or member of the clergy can be helpful if you want to discuss your feelings and concerns about having cancer. Your dermatologist or oncologist should be able to recommend someone. Many people with cancer are profoundly helped by talking to other people who have cancer. Sharing your concerns with others who have been through the same thing can be remarkably reassuring. Support groups of people with cancer may be available through the medical center where you are receiving your treatment. The American Cancer Society also has information about support groups all over the United States.

Posted on June 29, 2018