Skin Cancer Monterey
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. More than 500,000 new cases are reported each year-and the incidence is rising faster than any other type of cancer. While skin cancers can be found on any part of the body, about 80 percent appear on the face, head, or neck, where they can be disfiguring as well as dangerous.
Anyone can get skin cancer-no matter what your skin type, race or age, no matter where you live or what you do. But your risk is greater if…
- Your skin is fair and freckles easily.
- You have light-colored hair and eyes.
- You have a large number of moles, or moles of unusual size or shape.
- You have a family history of skin cancer or a personal history of blistering sunburn.
- You spend a lot of time working or playing outdoors.
- You live closer to the equator, at a higher altitude, or in any place that gets intense, year-round sunshine.
- You received therapeutic radiation treatments for adolescent acne.
Types of Skin Cancer
By far the most common type of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma. Fortunately, it’s also the least dangerous kind–it tends to grow slowly, and rarely spreads beyond its original site. Though basal cell carcinoma is seldom life-threatening, if left untreated it can grow deep beneath the skin and into the underlying tissue and bone, causing serious damage (particularly if it’s located near the eye).
Squamous cell carcinoma is the next most common kind of skin cancer, frequently appearing on the lips, face, or ears. It sometimes spreads to distant sites, including lymph nodes and internal organs. Squamous cell carcinoma can become life threatening if it’s not treated.
A third form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, is the least common, but its incidence is increasing rapidly, especially in the Sunbelt states. Malignant melanoma is also the most dangerous type of skin cancer. If discovered early enough, it can be completely cured. If it’s not treated quickly, however, malignant melanoma may spread throughout the body and is often deadly.
Recognizing Skin Cancer
Basal and squamous cell carcinomas can vary widely in appearance. The cancer may begin as small, white or pink nodule or bumps; it can be smooth and shiny, waxy, or pitted on the surface. Or it might appear as a red spot that’s rough, dry, or scaly…a firm, red lump that may form a crust…a crusted group of nodules…a sore that bleeds or doesn’t heal after two to four weeks…or a white patch that looks like scar tissue. Malignant melanoma is usually signaled by a change in the size, shape, or color of an existing mole, or as a new growth on normal skin. Watch for the “ABCD” warning signs of melanoma: Asymmetry-a growth with unmatched halves; Border irregularity-ragged or blurred edges; Color-a mottled appearance, with shades of tan, brown, and black, sometimes mixed with red, white, or blue; and Diameter- a growth more than 6 millimeters across (about the size of a pencil eraser), or any unusual increase in size. See your family doctor or dermatologist if you think this applies to you.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Skin cancer is diagnosed by removing all or part of the growth and examining its cells under a microscope. It can be treated by a number of methods, depending on the type of cancer, its stage of growth, and its location on your body.
Most skin cancers are removed surgically, by a plastic surgeon or a dermatologist. If the cancer is small, the procedure can be done quickly and easily, in an outpatient facility or the physician’s office, using local anesthesia. The procedure may be a simple excision, which usually leaves a thin, barely visible scar. Or curettage and desiccation may be performed. In this procedure the cancer is scraped out with an electric current to control bleeding and kill any remaining cancer cells. This leaves a slightly larger, white scar. In either case, the risks of the surgery are low. If the cancer is large, however, or if it has spread to the lymph glands or elsewhere in the body, major surgery may be required. Other possible treat- ments for skin cancer include cryosurgery (freezing the cancer cells), radiation therapy (using x-rays), topical chemotherapy (anti-cancer drugs applied to the skin), and Mohs surgery, a special procedure in which the cancer is shaved off one layer at a time. (Mohs surgery is performed only by specially trained physicians and often requires a reconstructive procedure as follow-up.)
A Word About Reconstruction
The different techniques used in treating skin cancers can be life saving, but they may leave a patient with less than pleasing cosmetic or functional results. Depending on the location and severity of the cancer, the consequences may range from a small but unsightly scar to permanent changes in facial structures such as your nose, ear, or lip. In such cases, no matter who performs the initial treatment, the plastic surgeon can be an important part of the treatment team. Reconstructive techniques- ranging from a simple scar revision to a complex transfer of tissue flaps from elsewhere on the body-can often repair damaged tissue, rebuild body parts, and restore most patients to acceptable appearance and function.
Preventing a Recurrence
- Avoid prolonged exposure to the sun, especially between 10 a.m. And 2 p.m. and during the summer months. Remember, ultraviolet rays pass right through water and clouds, and reflect off sand and snow.
- When you do go out for an extended period of time, wear protective clothing such as wide brimmed hats and long sleeves.
- On any exposed skin, use a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15. Reapply it frequently, especially after you’ve been swimming or sweating.
- Finally, examine your skin regularly. If you find anything suspicious, consult a plastic surgeon or a dermatologist as soon as possible.
SCHEDULE A CONSULTATION WITH DR. MORWOOD
Dr. Morwood is a board certified plastic surgeon who will provide a custom-designed approach to help you achieve your asethtic vision.
Please call (831) 646-8661 to set up a consultation.