What causes skin cancer?

Research shows indoor tanning increases the risk of melanoma by 75%. Everyone can get skin cancer, regardless of skin tone, although it is more common in those with light skin. Living in a sunny area can also increase the risk, even if you haven’t lived in that area for years. Having a lot of moles (especially atypical or dysplastic) increases the risk, as does getting a bad sunburn, especially if you have trouble tanning. If you’ve had it before, or have a family member that has it, this increases the risk. Medications or diseases which impair immune function, or lots of x-ray treatments contribute. Exposure to chemicals such as arsenic, coal, or industrial tar, as well as chewing and smoking tobacco will all contribute to the risk of skin cancer.

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What are the symptoms?

Changes to your skin are usually the first sign, anything lasting more than 2 weeks and is growing, changing shape, bleeding or itching can all be signs. The same type of cancer can look very different from person to person.
Basal cell carcinoma can appear anywhere on the body exposed to sun, as well as parts that aren’t. It grows slowly and looks like a red patch of skin, a pink, red, or brown pea-shaped lump. It may bleed. It can manifest as a flattened, hard or sunken growth, white or yellow in color. Squamous cell carcinoma also appears on skin with lots of sun exposure, but can appear in the mouth, lip, or genitals. It can grow deep, and when it does it looks like a hard, scaly or crusty red bump, patch, or pea-shaped growth. It can be an open sore that heals and returns. Melanoma appears on an existing mole, or a new mole. Keeping track of your moles, and noticing if you get one that grows, changes shape or color, or leaks fluid, especially if there’s itching, pain, or bleeding. It can manifest as a discoloration, brown or black, under nails, or a bruise that won’t go away.

How is it diagnosed and treated?

Skin cancer has a high cure rate, if caught early, which is why an examination at Dermatology of Seattle is so important. A dermoscope may be used to illuminate and magnify your skin, and your dermatologist may perform a biopsy, which means the dermatologist will remove some of the suspected area, to examine for cancerous cells. Skin cancer cannot be determined without this quick, safe procedure. There are various treatments for skin cancer, depending on the type of cancer, and where it appears on the body, as well as how deeply it has grown or spread.

Various dermatology surgery treatments that can be used:

  • Excision: This involves numbing the skin and cutting out the cancer.
  • Mohs surgery: A Mohs surgeon begins with the visible part of then cancer. The surgeon removes some skin that looks normal, but may have cancerous cells, and examines them. When no more cancerous cells are found, the procedure is complete. It usually takes a day or less, with high cure rates.
  • Curettage and electrodesiccation: This procedure is used on small cancers, and involves using a curette to scape the tumor, and an electric needle to cauterize the skin.

Other treatments:

  • Immunotherapy: Using the patient’s immune system to fight the cancer, a cream is applied, such as imiquimod.
  • Cryosurgery: This involves freezing the cancer, which then falls off.
  • Chemotherapy: Either injected, swallowed, or infused with an IV. For topical treatment, the patient applies the cream to the affected skin, killing the cancer cells.
  • Photodynamic therapy: A special chemical is applied to the skin, then exposed to a special light.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation may be used to treat skin cancers that cover a large area, or difficult to remove.

Skin cancer can be cured when caught early, so be sure to schedule an appointment at Dermatology of Seattle today.