Who Is at Risk for Skin Cancer?
Although anyone can get skin cancer, the risk is greatest for people who have fair or freckled skin that burns easily, light eyes and blond or red hair. Darker skinned individuals are also susceptible to all types of skin cancer, although their risk is substantially lower.
Aside from complexion, other risk factors include having a family history or personal history of skin cancer, having an outdoor job and living in a sunny climate. A history of severe sunburns and an abundance of large and irregularly-shaped moles are risk factors unique to melanoma.
What Are the Symptoms of Skin Cancer?
The most common warning sign of skin cancer is a change on the skin, typically a new mole or skin lesion or a change in an existing mole.
- Basal cell carcinoma may appear as a small, smooth, pearly or waxy bump on the face ears and neck, or as a flat pink, red or brown lesion on the trunk or arms and legs.
- Squamous cell carcinoma can appear as a firm, red nodule, or as a rough, scaly flat lesion that may bleed and become crusty. Both basal cell and squamous cell cancers mainly occur on areas of the skin frequently exposed to the sun, but can occur anywhere.
- Melanoma usually appears as a pigmented patch or bump. It may resemble a normal mole, but usually has a more irregular appearance.
When looking for melanoma, think of the ABCD rule that tells you the signs to watch for:
- Asymmetry - the shape of one half doesn't match the other
- Border - edges are ragged or blurred
- Color - uneven shades of brown, black, tan, red, white or blue
- Diameter - A significant change in size (greater than 6mm)
How is Skin Cancer Diagnosed?
Skin cancer is diagnosed only by performing a biopsy. This involves taking a sample of the tissue, which is then placed under a microscope and examined by a dermatopathologist, or doctor who specializes in examining skin tissue.
How is Skin Cancer Treated?
Treatment of skin cancer is individualized and is determined by the type of skin cancer, its size and location, and the patient's preference.
Standard treatments for non-melanoma skin cancer (basal cell or squamous cell carcinomas) include:
- Mohs surgery (for high-risk non-melanoma skin cancers) – excision of cancer and some extra tissue
- Electrodesiccation and curettage – physically scraping away the skin cancer cells followed by electrosurgery
- Cryosurgery or freezing
Standard treatments for melanoma skin cancer include:
- Wide surgical excision
- Sentinel lymph node mapping (for deeper lesions) to determine if the melanoma has spread to local lymph nodes
- Drugs (chemotherapy, biological response modifiers) for widespread disease
- Radiation therapy for local control of advanced melanoma in areas such as the brain
- New methods in clinical trials