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Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer with over one million new cases diagnosed every year. If left untreated, skin cancer may become dangerous, but with early detection and treatment, it is usually easily treatable. Skin cancer is commonly caused from sun exposure; therefore, people with fair skin, light hair or light eyes are at greatest risk for developing skin cancer. The three most common types of skin cancer are Basal Cell Carcinoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma, and Malignant Melanoma.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of cancer and although it almost never spreads internally, it slowly enlarges locally and can destroy normal structures if left untreated.
BCC originates from cells in the epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin) and although is typically occurs in sun exposed skin, such as the face, scalp and neck, it may occur anywhere on the body.
The most common cause of BCC is sunlight. Sunlight can cause damage to cellular DNA and this is harmful because DNA is the blueprint or map for creating new cells. In most cases, damaged DNA is detected and repaired by the immune system. Basal cell skin cancer forms when sun damage is too great or if the immune system is not working effectively.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common type of skin cancer. Much like BCC, it originates in the epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin) and typically occurs in sun exposed skin, but may occur anywhere on the body.
SCC causes a local destruction and is usually slow growing. SCC rarely spreads internally. Although squamous cell carcinomas usually remain confined to the skin for some time, they may eventually penetrate the underlying tissues if not treated. In a small percentage of cases, they metastasize (spread) to local lymph nodes, distant lymph nodes or organs. Anyone with a history of frequent sun exposure can develop SCC, but people who have fair skin, light hair or light eyes are at highest risk. Those whose occupations require long hours in the outdoors or who spend extensive leisure time in the sun are at greatest risk for development of SCC.
Chronic exposure to ultraviolet radiation (sunlight) is the most common cause of squamous cell carcinoma, and tumors most frequently appear on the sun-exposed parts of the body: the face, neck, scalp, hands, shoulders, arms and back. The rim of the year and the lower lip are especially vulnerable to the development of these cancers. Development of squamous cell carcinoma may be increased by certain medical conditions, such as infection of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) or by medicines that suppress the immune system such as medications for organ transplant recipients.
Melanoma is the third most common skin cancer in the United States. Melanoma arises from pigment cells, called melanocytes, that give us our skin color and are located in the epidermis (outermost layer of the skin). Although melanoma usually occurs in sun-damaged skin, it may occur anywhere on the body. Dr. Fazio and Dr. Youker offer advanced treatment of melanoma and are proud to have been the first laboratory in Northern California to introduce Mart-I stains. These stains have revolutionized the treatment of melanoma allowing our physicians to treat over 130 melanomas annually.
Although melanoma most often remains confined to the skin for some time, it may eventually spread via lymph or blood vessels. In some cases, melanoma may metastasize (spread) to local lymph nodes, distant tissues or organs.
Excessive exposure to sunlight is the most common cause of melanoma. Family history of melanoma and family genetics also play a significant role in ones likelihood of developing melanoma.
Anyone with a history of frequent sun exposure can develop melanoma, but people who have fair skin, light hair or light eyes are at highest risk. Those who occupations require long hours in the outdoors or who spend extensive leisure time in the sun are in particular jeopardy. Anyone with a personal or family history of melanoma is more likely to develop melanoma.
The prognosis of melanoma depends on variables that are unique in each case. The most important variable is thickness – thick melanomas are more dangerous than thin melanomas because they have greater access to vessels that may act as vehicles for metastasis (spreading). Knowledge of melanoma thickness allows the surgeon to educate patients on their prognosis and guides the formulation of an optimal treatment plan in each unique case.
Some melanomas develop in preexisting moles. Recognizing the early warning signs of melanoma requires skin examination and an understanding of the ABCDs of mole examination. Below is an introduction to the ABCD’s:
A = Asymmetry occurs when a mole’s shape cannot be divided into 2 mirror images.
B = Borders are irregular when they are ragged, jagged, or blend into the surrounding skin.
C = Color is irregular when they are more than 2 shades of brown, jet-black, red, white or blue.
D = Diameter is too large if a mole is larger than 6mm in diameter (the diameter of a pencil eraser).
We add an “E” to the “ABCD’s” of mole examination to include Evolution. If a mole changes in any way (lighter, darker, larger, smaller, shape, development of symptoms such as itching or pain), it should be evaluated by a dermatologist.
In addition to treatment of the above mentioned skin cancer, doctors Fazio and Youker are experts at treating all other skin cancers, including the less common types not mentioned above.