Skin Cancer Information
Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in humans. The two most common types of skin cancer, basal cell skin cancer and squamous cell skin cancer have an incidence of about 1,000,000 new diagnoses per year in the US. These cancers are composed of cells from the top part of the skin called the epidermis. The cells grow uncontrollably resulting in a tumor. These types of skin cancers usually do not metastasize but can be locally invasive. These tumors should be treated because they can destroy soft tissue and cartilage leaving a bleeding, non-healing, painful ulcer.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What causes skin cancer?
- What does skin cancer look like?
- How is skin cancer treated?
- Will I develop more skin cancers?
- Moles and Melanoma
- Can my primary care physician examine my skin?
What causes skin cancer?
Skin cancer is caused by sunlight and genetics or heredity. People who have outdoor occupations and are fair skinned are more likely to develop skin cancer. Heredity can play a part in the development of skin cancers as well. Some families pass on defective genes that cannot repair the damage caused by the sun and cancers develop more frequently.
What does skin cancer look like?
Skin cancer can come in a variety of forms. Usually it presents as a pearly papule that bleeds without trauma. It can also be a scaly patch that will not heal. Sometimes skin cancer can resemble a rash. If you have a rash that has not improved for several months it could be skin cancer. Skin cancer can also present as an ulcer with a rolled border. The best way to determine if a person has skin cancer is to see a dermatologist for a check of all the skin. If a skin cancer is suspected usually a biopsy is performed of the lesion. Dr. Babcock is happy to discuss your skin with you in more depth. Please call (404) 835-3052 for an appointment.
How is skin cancer treated?
Skin cancer can be treated in many ways. The most common way to treat skin cancer is with an excision of the skin cancer. This can be done simply or with a specialized technique call Mohs Micrographic Surgery. With Mohs Micrographic Surgery the tumor is removed, and evaluated microscopically in a lab while you wait. Once the skin is free of tumor the skin is usually sewn shut with sutures and the patient leaves later that day. Mohs Micrographic surgery has the highest cure rate of all procedures available to treat skin cancer. It is usually reserved for tumors of the head and neck and complex tumors of the body.
Other methods to treat skin cancer include electrodesiccation and curettage which is scraping the cancer with a sharp instrument and then hyfercating the skin with heat energy. This method works well off of the head and neck. It is occasionally used for small tumors of the head and neck.
Occasionally chemotherapeutic or immunomodulator creams are used to treat skin cancers. These can have success in treating skin cancers; however, the skin needs to be followed closely and usually biopsied after the use of these creams to ensure the cancer does not return. Radiation therapy and cryosurgery are other alternatives that some physicians choose depending on patient circumstances. Dr. Babcock is happy to discuss your skin with you in more depth. Please call (404) 835-3052 for an appointment.
Will I develop more skin cancers?
After having one skin cancer, statistics say that you have a higher chance of developing a second. The damage that your skin has already received from the sun cannot be reversed. However, there are precautions that can be taken to prevent further skin cancers. They involve good common sense. You should apply sunscreen at least 10 minutes before exposure to sunlight. The sunscreens are now labeled as to strength; the higher numbers are more protective. We recommend that you use #15 or higher sunscreen. Despite manufacturers' claims, Dr. Babcock suggests that you reapply sunscreen frequently, about every two hours. A wide-brimmed hat, long-sleeved shirt and other protective clothing are also appropriate. Avoidance of excessive sunshine is recommended.
You should have your skin checked closely by a dermatologist at six-month intervals. This is not only to check the surgical site as it is healing, but also to check for the development of additional skin cancers. Our policy is for us to follow the majority of our patients until the wound is healed, and then they can continue to be followed by their referring dermatologist. If you do not have a dermatologist then you can see Dr. Babcock for your skin checks. We recommend six-month follow-up visits for two years, then yearly. Of course, any areas of your skin that change, fail to heal, or just concern you should be brought to the attention of your dermatologist immediately. He/she will be able to adequately treat most skin cancers when they are detected early and are small.
Moles and Melanoma
Moles or nevi are the brown spots that you see on your skin. They are composed of melanocytes, the cells that make pigment in your body. Occasionally a mole will start growing uncontrollably and turn into melanoma. Melanomas can also develop in the absence of a mole. Melanomas are dangerous tumors that can metastasize (spread) throughout the body leading to death. Dr. Babcock received specialty training in diagnosing and treating melanomas of all types. Please call (404) 835-3052 for an appointment.
Can my primary care physician examine my skin?
Dermatologists are the specialists in skin cancer. Sometimes skin cancers can look like pimples, other times simple freckles. A dermatologist spends many years training to spot these subtle differences. Some primary care physicians take great interest in the skin and have studied skin cancers. It is important that you ask your primary care physician what their comfort level is with diagnosing skin cancers. Unfortunately skin cancers can be missed by physicians that are not trained to diagnose skin cancer. Dr. Babcock recommends that a dermatologist evaluate your skin every year for skin cancers and more often if you have a personal or family history of skin cancer. Dr. Babcock is happy to discuss your skin with you in more depth. Please call (404) 835-3052 for an appointment.