When you hear the phrase “skin cancer,” is your first thought melanoma? Melanoma might get most of the attention, because it is the most dangerous form of the cancer. But, it is far from the most common. Several others occur more frequently and should be just as much cause for concern. Some skin cancers are only fatal in very rare cases. But, if left alone, they can grow so much that they cause disfigurement. No matter the type of skin cancer a person has, removal and reconstructive surgery are often the most effective ways to treat it.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, basal cell carcinoma is the most common of all skin cancers. There are nearly three million basal cell carcinomas diagnosed yearly. It’s estimated that nearly half of all people over the age of 65 will have at least one basal cell carcinoma. The good news is that this form of cancer is rarely deadly. But, it can continue to grow, eventually causing deformity if untreated.
The tumors usually form on areas of skin that have seen some sun exposure. Often, the cancer looks like a shiny, red bump. Basal cell carcinomas can also look like red, irritated patches of skin or like scar tissue. Since this form of cancer can look like a number of other skin concerns, including scabs and pimples, it’s important to see a doctor for a diagnosis if you notice anything that looks like it could be a basal cell tumor.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most frequently occurring form of skin cancer. It is slightly more dangerous than basal cell tumors, as it is responsible for up to 2,500 deaths annually, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. The tumors can look similar to basal cell carcinomas. They are usually rough and scaly in appearance. In some instances, they look like warts. Scratching the tumor can cause it to bleed.
Sun exposure can increase your risk for developing squamous cell carcinoma. Often, the cancer can develop from a benign growth, known as an actinic keratosis. Actinic keratoses are raised, brown spots that develop on sun-exposed skin, most often on older people. Up to 60 percent of squamous cell tumors develop from actinic keratoses. In many cases, squamous cell carcinoma occurs in people over the age of 50.
Although a rarer form of skin cancer than the basal cell or squamous cell carcinomas, melanoma is responsible for nearly 10,000 deaths each year. Sun exposure increases your risk for the cancer, as does having a family history of the disease.
Melanomas can be distinct in appearance. They are usually identified by their size, shape and color. A melanoma will often be larger than a quarter inch in diameter, have an uneven or splotchy color, and an irregular border. Early detection is key to the best treatment outcome. If you have any moles or spots that look unusual to you, it’s a good idea to see your doctor right away to get a diagnosis.
What Treatment Involves
The good news about skin cancer is that it can be treated and cured, if found early enough. Often, treatment involves surgery to remove the tumor. In some cases, the treatment can be no more invasive than a biopsy to determine if the growth is cancer and to remove all of it. In other cases, surgery can be more complicated.
One form of surgery often used for basal cell and squamous cell tumors and less often for melanoma is Mohs surgery, a procedure that involves removing the tumor layer by layer, preserving as much healthy skin as possible in the process. While surgery can often remove all of the cancer, depending on how far it has spread, some patients might need additional treatment, such as chemotherapy, radiation or biological therapy.
Depending on where the skin cancer was located or the size of it, removing it from the body might cause some disfigurement or deformity. This is particularly true when the tumor appeared on the face. Patients who have had cancer removed but are now living with a mark or large scar on their face or elsewhere on the body might consider reconstructive surgery.
Reconstructive surgery can reduce the appearance of scars after tumor removal. It can also repair damage to the soft tissue, restoring a natural appearance to the face. Depending on the extent of repair needed, the surgery might involve taking a graft of skin from one part of the body and placing it over the area where the tumor was located.
Seeking treatment for skin cancer is absolutely important, no matter the type of cancer a person has. Once the cancer is treated, you can begin to explore options for restoring your appearance. In the Virginia Beach area, Dr. Kyle Choe performs reconstructive surgery on patients who are recovering from skin cancer or on patients who have scarring or other disfigurements on their faces. To learn how you can get your appearance and confidence back following a skin cancer scare, call (757) 389-5850 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Choe today.