What It Looks Like
Squamous cell cancer involves the runaway growth of keratinocytes, cells in the outermost layer of skin, which produce the protein keratin. Squamous means scaly in 60%80% of cases, the lesions emerge on or near scaly patches called actinic keratoses that develop from sun-damaged skin.
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What Happens When Skin Cancer Goes Untreated
If you notice an abnormality on your skin you may be tempted to ignore it. However, if it is skin cancer you could be putting your health at risk by waiting to get a skin and mole check. There are three main types of skin cancer in Australia with melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, and they each have their own set of unique characteristics. The most important thing to remember is that if you delay treatment of skin cancer it could have life threatening consequences:
How Dangerous Is Skin Cancer Really
We all love the feeling of the sun on our skin and maybe even a little bit of that golden tan. But then were reminded that somebody dies every hour in the U.S. from skin cancer. Most skin cancer cases are completely avoidable. Dr. Glen Bowen from Huntsman Cancer Institute talks about why he believes skin cancer is an epidemic problem. Hell also talk about how to balance the desire to be out in the sun and the dangers of skin cancer, and why young adults are the most prone to melanoma.
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Stages Of Skin Cancer
If you receive a skin cancer diagnosis, the next step is to identify its stage.
Staging is how doctors determine whether the cancer has spread to other parts of your body. Staging is common with melanoma and Merkel cell carcinoma, because these cancers are more likely to spread.
Typically, basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas dont involve staging. These skin cancers are easily treated and dont usually spread. However, your doctor may recommend staging for larger lesions.
Staging is based on the size of the growth and whether it has high-risk features. High-risk features include:
- larger than 2 millimeters thick
- spreads into the lower levels of the skin
- spreads into the space around a nerve
- appears on the lips or ears
- appears abnormal under a microscope
Heres a general breakdown of skin cancer stages:
- Stage 0. The cancer hasnt spread to surrounding areas of the skin.
- Stage 1. The cancer is 2 centimeters across or less, with no high-risk features.
- Stage 2. The cancer is more than 2 cm across and has a least two high-risk features.
- Stage 3. The cancer has spread to the bones in the face or nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage 4. The cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or internal organs.
What Is Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is a serious but common skin condition that causes skin cells to replicate in irregular ways or damages the structure of the cells themselves. While there are many different causes of skin cancer, exposure to the suns ultraviolet rays is the most common underlying cause of all forms of skin cancer. When damaged skin cells multiply, they form tumors. These growths can be either benign or malignant. Benign tumors are typically considered noncancerous or precancerous. Malignant tumors are more likely to impact surrounding cells or metastasize, which means they may spread to other parts of the body.
There are many different types of skin precancers and cancers. Skin precancers include actinic keratosis and dysplastic nevi . The four most common skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas, melanoma skin cancers, and merkel cell skin cancers. Most skin cancers are either basal or squamous cell carcinomas. While melanomas and merkel cell skin cancers make up a small percentage of cases, they cause the greatest number of skin cancer-related deaths each year as these types are more likely to metastasize.
Signs of skin cancer can be more easily remembered by the mnemonic ABCDEF. This was developed initially for melanoma detection, but it can be applied to most skin cancers:
A asymmetry the shape isnt uniform throughout
D diameter is the spot greater than the size of a pencil eraser? Is the diameter growing?
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Have A Skin Cancer Screening
Early intervention and treatment is crucial in skin cancer cases. A yearly skin cancer screening with a dermatologist is the best way to detect skin cancer early, since dermatologists are trained to recognize the earliest warning signs.
If a suspicious growth or lesion is found during your screening, it will be biopsied to test for signs of cancer. If the biopsy comes back negative, no follow-up is necessary. If the biopsy comes back positive, your dermatologist will explain your treatment options and help you develop a clear plan for addressing the cancer.
What Happens If Melanoma Is Left Untreated
Even though this form of skin cancer impacts a relatively low percentage of patients, melanoma skin cancers make up the majority of skin cancer deaths. Melanoma lesions often look like moles, freckles, or sunspots, and they may even develop within an existing mark on your body. Unlike other forms of skin cancer that are slow to progress and unlikely to spread to other areas, melanoma advances quickly and can form or spread anywhere on the body. In order to diagnose melanoma in the earliest stages, patients need to remember the ABCDEFs of melanoma, as discussed above.
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Types Of Melanoma Skin Cancer
Melanoma skin cancer can grow into and destroy nearby tissue. It can also spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma skin cancer is also called cutaneous melanoma and malignant melanoma of the skin.
There are 4 main types of melanoma skin cancer superficial spreading, nodular, lentigo maligna and acral lentiginous.
When To Seek Medical Care For Skin Cancer
Many people, especially those who have fair coloring or have had extensive sun exposure, periodically check their entire body for suspicious moles and lesions.
Have your primary health care provider or a dermatologist check any moles or spots that concern you.
See your health care provider to check your skin if you notice any changes in the size, shape, color, or texture of pigmented areas .
If you have skin cancer, your skin specialist or cancer specialist will talk to you about symptoms of metastatic disease that might require care in a hospital.
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What Happens If Squamous Cell Carcinoma Is Left Untreated
Like basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma is relatively common, slow-growing, and at low risk to metastasize in most cases. This form of skin cancer is also likely to develop on the areas of the body that are exposed to sunlight like the face, hands, neck, shoulders, and lower legs, especially for people who have a history of sunburns. Unlike the smooth appearance of basal cell carcinoma lesions, squamous cell carcinoma tumors often appear as rough, thickened, scaly patches of skin. The growths may appear wart-like or like a donut shape. Squamous cell carcinoma lesions may form sores and bleed often or develop into a large, thick, and firm mass. Squamous cell carcinoma typically impacts people over the age of 50. While the condition does spread slowly, the risk that squamous cell carcinoma will spread to other parts of the body is higher than that of basal cell carcinoma. Additionally, these have the potential to arise suddenly and grow rapidly in some cases.
What Types Of Skin Cancers Are Deadly
Skin cancers are some of the most complex and serious conditions treated by dermatologists, and the U.S. Dermatology Partners team takes our role in preventing and treating all types of skin cancers very seriously. While some forms of skin cancer are not typically life-threatening, without proper treatment, there are serious health risks associated with all forms of skin cancer. According to Dr. Jessica Dorsey of U.S. Dermatology Partners in Cedar Park, Texas, Most skin cancers are slow-growing and unlikely to spread to other parts of the body, but without treatment, just about any form of skin cancer has the potential to be destructive or even fatal. Keep reading to learn more about the importance of regular screenings to catch skin cancer in the earliest stages and prevent the severe repercussions of untreated skin cancers.
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Medical Treatment For Skin Cancer
Surgical removal is the mainstay of skin cancer treatment for both basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. For more information, see Surgery.People who cannot undergo surgery may be treated by external radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is the use of a small beam of radiation targeted at the skin lesion. The radiation kills the abnormal cells and destroys the lesion. Radiation therapy can cause irritation or burning of the surrounding normal skin. It can also cause fatigue. These side effects are temporary. In addition, topical chemotherapy creams have been FDA approved for the treatment of certain low-risk nonmelanoma skin cancers. Patients with advanced or many basal cell carcinomas are sometimes prescribed oral pills to block the growth of these cancers. Side effects include muscle spasms, hair loss, taste changes, weight loss and fatigue.
In advanced cases of melanoma, immune therapies, vaccines, or chemotherapy may be used. These treatments are typically offered as clinical trials. Clinical trials are studies of new therapies to see if they can be tolerated and work better than existing therapies.
What To Do If You Receive A Skin Cancer Diagnosis
Once a skin biopsy confirms skin cancer, your doctor will recommend a treatment based on the stage of the cancer.
To improve your outlook, its important that you complete your treatment and schedule follow-up appointments as needed. Your doctor may want to see you every few months to make sure the cancer hasnt returned.
Also schedule annual skin exams with a dermatologist. Get into the habit of checking your own skin for abnormal growths, too. This includes your back, scalp, soles of feet, and ears.
You can also ask your doctor about local support groups for those with skin cancer, or search for support programs in your area.
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Which Is The Worst Kind Of Skin Cancer
- Basal cell carcinoma is the most common and the least dangerous skin cancer. If it isnt removed, it will be disfiguring, but it is not likely to metastasise .
- Squamous cell carcinoma is easily treated if it is found early enough but can be fatal if left untreated. Melanoma is the least common but the most deadly form of cancer.
- Melanoma does metastasise and spread to other organs, where it can grow rapidly and affect the ability of that organ to function properly. There is no effective treatment for melanoma that has metastasised to distant organs. It is generally incurable.
How Is Skin Cancer Diagnosed
Your doctor or dermatologist will first conduct a physical examination by looking at your skin to identify any suspicious spots using a dermatoscope .
Its not always possible to tell from looking at it whether a spot or lump is cancerous or not. So your doctor or dermatologist may take a skin biopsy. This is where part of, or all of, your spot is removed and sent for further study under a microscope.
Some smartphone apps allow you to photograph your skin and compare photos over time. While they can be a good reminder to check your skin and record details, they shouldnt replace a visit to the doctor. See a doctor if youre concerned about any spots or moles on your skin.
Also Check: What Is Superficial Basal Cell Carcinoma
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One quick way to get consumers attention in the summer may be to give them a copy of a federal government chart showing what kinds of moles really ought to be seen by a doctor.
Doctors will find new cases of skin cancer this year in about 3.3 million people, according to the American Cancer Society. About 96,480 of those cases will involve the most aggressive form of skin cancer, melanoma.
Melanoma will kill about 7,230 people. Other forms of skin cancer may be less aggressive than melanoma, but they are also much more common, and they will kill about 4,420 people.
Skin cancer can also affect your sales of life insurance and other medically underwritten products, by making some otherwise healthy applicants difficult or impossible to get through underwriting.
QuickQuote.com Financial Inc. has posted a number of real-life underwriting examples on its website, along with a detailed discussion of the factors life insurance underwriters consider when looking at applications from melanoma survivors. Site managers show, for example, that a 48-year-old who had melanoma diagnosed and removed four years earlier qualified for coverage at a relatively low price. Another 55-year-old applicant, who was treated at age 53 for melanoma that had spread to three lymph nodes, and who has not seen a doctor for 18 months, was declined.
After Skin Cancer Treatment
Most skin cancer is cured surgically in the dermatologist’s office. Of skin cancers that do recur, most do so within three years. Therefore, follow up with your dermatologist as recommended. Make an appointment immediately if you suspect a problem.
If you have advanced malignant melanoma, your oncologist may want to see you every few months. These visits may include total body skin exams, regional lymph node checks, and periodic chest X-rays and body scans. Over time, the intervals between follow-up appointments will increase. Eventually these checks may be done only once a year.
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When Is A Mole A Problem
If a new or existing mole begins to change shape, color, size, or becomes flaky, crusty, or begins to bleed, it’s time to make an appointment with your dermatologist to get it checked out. A mole can turn into melanoma on rare occasions. In early melanoma, the shape of a mole becomes asymmetrical and uneven.
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Nodular basal cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer that is most often found on the head. This type of cancer starts in basal cells, which are tasked with making new skin cells to push the old ones toward the surface of the skin. Nodular basal cell carcinoma is responsible for 60%-80% of all basal cell carcinomas. In the United States, its estimated that 4.3 million cases of basal cell carcinoma are diagnosed every year, with 2.5 to 3.4 million of those cases being nodular basal cell carcinoma.
This type of cancer appears as a pearl-like papule that is round and surrounded by threadlike red lines on the skin made up of tiny blood vessels. The risk of developing nodular basal cell carcinoma can be increased by spending a lot of time out in the sun, living in high-altitude and sunny locations, and radiation therapy.
Other risk factors include:
- Prolonged exposure to arsenic
- Certain rare genetic disorders such as basal cell nevus syndrome
Although this type of cancer is common, it is highly treatable, and the five-year relative survival rate is 100%.
Types Of Basal Cell Cancer: Nodular Superficial And Infiltrative Carcinomas
Basal cell carcinoma is a common variety of skin cancer that most frequently develops on the head, neck, torso, and other areas of the body that are at risk for excessive sun exposure. Not all types of basal cell cancer are the same. The physical characteristics of these skin carcinomas can be grouped into three main categories, which are described in further detail below.
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Merkel Cell Carcinoma: A Rare Skin Cancer On The Rise
Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare type of skin cancer that affects about 2,000 people in the United States each year.
Though its an uncommon skin cancer, cases of Merkel cell carcinoma have increased rapidly in the last couple of decades.
This type of cancer starts when cells in the skin, called Merkel cells, start to grow out of control.
Merkel cell carcinomas typically grow quickly and can be difficult to treat if they spread.
They can start anywhere on the body, but Merkel cell carcinomas commonly affect areas exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck, and arms.
They may look like pink, red, or purple lumps that are firm when you touch them. Sometimes, they can open up as ulcers or sores.
Risk factors include:
Skin Cancer Risk Factors
The primary risk factor for skin cancer of all types is the amount of time a person spends outside or in tanning beds, especially if he or she does not wear sunscreen and protective clothing. Other risk factors are:
- Fair skin that burns and freckles easily
- Naturally blonde or red hair
- Green or blue eyes
- History of sunburns
- Geography places at high altitudes and or with abundant sunshine year-round have more incidences of skin cancer
- History of previous skin cancers
- Weak immune system from other illnesses
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Basal Cell Carcinoma: The Most Common Skin Cancer
Basal cell carcinoma, which is also called basal cell skin cancer, is the most common form of skin cancer, accounting for about 80 percent of all cases.
Rates of basal cell carcinoma have been increasing. Experts believe this is due to more sun exposure, longer lives, and better skin cancer detection methods.
This type of cancer begins in the skins basal cells, which are found in the outermost layer, the epidermis. They usually develop on areas that are exposed to the sun, like the face, head, and neck.
Basal cell carcinomas may look like:
- A flesh-colored, round growth
- A pinkish patch of skin
- A bleeding or scabbing sore that heals and then comes back
They typically grow slowly and dont spread to other areas of the body. But, if these cancers arent treated, they can expand deeper and penetrate into nerves and bones.
Though its rare, basal cell carcinoma can be life-threatening. Experts believe that about 2,000 people in the United States die each year from basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma.
Some risk factors that increase your chances of having a basal cell carcinoma include:
- Being exposed to the sun or indoor tanning
- Having a history of skin cancer
- Being over age 50
- Having chronic infections, skin inflammation, or a weakened immune system
- Being exposed to industrial compounds, radiation, coal tar, or arsenic
- Having an inherited disorder, such as nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome or xeroderma pigmentosum