Skin Cancer: Types, Symptoms and Treatment

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in the US. With advances in medicine, and regular checkups, your primary care physician and dermatologist can provide you with the necessary screenings to watch for skin cancer. At the end of the day though, you are your skin’s first line of defense. Screen yourself regularly with the help of a hand mirror. If you notice a strange spot, call your doctor to have it examined.

In most skin cancer cases, a dermatologist can treat the two most common types: basal and squamous cell. SSM Health Cancer Care may be included in your care team if you have advanced stages of these cancers or if you’ve been diagnosed with melanoma.

Types of Skin Cancer We Treat

There are three primary types of skin cancer we see and treat:

  • Basal cell carcinoma: most common form, grows slowly and rarely spreads; starts from cells at the base of the skin
  • Squamous cell skin cancer: more likely to grow deep and spread to other parts of the body; starts in cells on the outer layers of the skin
  • Melanoma: spreads quickly and accounts for almost all deaths from skin cancer; starts in skin cells that produce melanin

Signs & Symptoms of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is preventable and easily treated when found early. Regular screenings by your primary care provider or dermatologist are paramount to your skin’s health.

Skin cancer can appear as a changing mole or growth you already have, or can be a new mole or growth. The speed of growth tends to vary. Symptoms also vary, depending on the type of skin cancer.

Symptoms of Basal Cell Carcinoma

  • Small, raised bump that is shiny or pearly (may have small blood vessels in it)
  • Small, flat spot that is scaly, irregularly shaped and pale, pink or red
  • A spot that bleeds easily and briefly, then heals and appears to go away only to bleed again in a few weeks
  • Growth with raised edges, a lower area in the center, and brown, blue or black spots

Symptoms of Squamous Cell Carcinoma

  • Rough or scaly bump that appears suddenly and grows quickly
  • Wart-like growth that may bleed or crust over
  • Flat, irregularly shaped red patches on the skin; may or may not bleed

Symptoms of Melanoma

  • New or changing moles or dysplastic nevi, clusters of pigmented cells, often dark brown or black

Treating Skin Cancer

There are a variety of treatment options available for skin cancer. These options can include:

  • Cryosurgery: uses extreme cold, produced by liquid nitrogen, to treat external tumors
  • Curettage and electrodessication: surgical procedure to scrape and burn certain cancers off the skin
  • Medicated creams
  • Mohs surgery: a precise surgical technique that removes thin layers of cancer-containing skin until only cancer-free tissue is left
  • Photodynamic therapy: uses a photosensitizer drug and a particular type of light to destroy cancer cells
  • Radiation therapy (external beam therapy and brachytherapy)
  • Surgery

Together, you and your doctor will determine your treatment plan based on the type, size, location and stage of your skin cancer. You will also want to consider your age, overall health and potential side effects in your decision making process.

If you have found a questionable spot on your skin, don’t delay. Visit your primary care physician or dermatologist as soon as you can. As long as the cancer is caught early, it has a high chance of being cured.

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