Skin Cancer Treatment
Skin cancer, which is the most common form of cancer in the United States, is the result of the abnormal growth of skin cells. Cancer can affect skin anywhere on the body but most frequently appears on skin that is exposed to the sun. There are more than a million new cases of skin cancer in the United States each year.
We specialize in diagnosing and treating skin cancer in North Port, Bradenton, Sarasota, Venice, and other locations serving South Florida.
Causes of Skin Cancer
Every day, skin cells die and new ones form to replace them in a process controlled by DNA. Skin cancer can form when this process does not work properly because of damage to DNA. New cells may form when they are not needed, or older cells may not die, both of which can cause a growth of tissue known as a tumor. DNA damage is often a result of ultraviolet radiation from sunlight or tanning lamps. In some cases, skin cancer affects areas of the skin that have not been exposed to the sun. Certain factors, such as fair skin, moles, a weakened immune system, heredity and age, also increase the risk of skin cancer.
Types of Skin Cancer
There are three major types of skin cancer, and they affect different layers of the skin. They are named for the different types of skin cells that become cancerous.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell skin cancer occurs in the basal cell layer of the skin and is the most common type of skin cancer in people with fair skin. It commonly occurs on areas of the skin that have been exposed to the sun, such as the face. It rarely spreads to other parts of the body.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma occurs in the squamous cells. It is the most common type of skin cancer in people with dark skin, who typically get it in places, such as the legs or feet, that have not been exposed to the sun. In people with fair skin, it usually occurs in sun-exposed areas such as on the face, head, ears and neck. Squamous cell skin cancer can spread to other parts of the body.
Melanoma is the most aggressive type of cancer and the most likely to spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma occurs in the melanocyte (pigment) cells of the skin, and can form on any part of the body, regardless of past sun exposure.
Symptoms of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is often identified as a new or changed growth on the skin of the scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms, hands or legs. Although these are common areas for skin-cancer growths to form, they can occur anywhere and manifest themselves as the following:
- Pearly or waxy bump
- Flesh-colored or brown scar-like lesion
- Firm, red nodule
- Crusted, flat lesion
- Large brown spot with darker speckles
- Shiny, firm bumps
A mole that changes shape or color can also indicate skin cancer.
Diagnosis of Skin Cancer
To diagnose skin cancer, a doctor reviews all symptoms and checks the skin for any unusual growths or abnormal patches of skin. If skin cancer is suspected, a biopsy is performed on the growth or area of skin in question. Once the results of the biopsy are reviewed, the type of cancer can be determined, and a treatment plan created. Those who experience any skin changes, or have changes to existing moles or birthmarks, should see a doctor as soon as possible; early detection is key in successfully treating skin cancer.
Treatment for Skin Cancer
Treatment for skin cancer depends on the type, size, and location of the tumor. Most options include the removal of the entire growth and are effective forms of treatment. Removal procedures are usually simple, requiring only a local anesthetic in an outpatient setting. Some of the treatment options for skin cancer include the following:
- Laser therapy
- Mohs surgery
Depending on the stage and severity of the skin cancer, in addition to removal of the growth, chemotherapy and radiation may be recommended.
Recovery After Skin Cancer Extraction
Your dermatologist will explain what to expect during your recovery based on the type of removal performed. However, the information below outlines typical recovery timelines for a few common treatment options.
After cryotherapy, the treatment area will become red and swollen, then blister and scab over. Scabs usually form 2 to 3 days after treatment and heal within 1 to 3 weeks. Most people experience mild pain, itchiness, or irritation in the treatment area after cryotherapy, but those sensations should resolve within a few days. It’s important not to scratch or pick at the blister or scab to avoid causing infection and additional scarring.
Some discomfort is common for the first few days after surgical removal and may be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers or prescribed pain medication. Depending on the size and location of the excision, the dermatologist may close the surgical wound with sutures that are removed 1 to 2 weeks later. Healing takes 1 to 3 weeks.
You may expect swelling, bruising, and mild to moderate pain the first day or two after Mohs surgery. Your Mohs surgeon may close the surgical wound with sutures that either dissolve on their own or are removed 7 to 10 days post-procedure. In other cases, the surgeon will repair the wound with a skin flap from the surrounding skin or a skin graft from another area of the body. The donor area for the skin flap or graft heals in 1 to 2 weeks, but it may take 4 to 6 weeks for the treatment area to heal. In some cases, the surgical wound is extensive, and a plastic surgeon will reconstruct the treatment area.
Most people experience swelling and redness for the first few days after laser therapy. Swelling may take longer to resolve when the laser is combined with a photosensitizing agent for photodynamic therapy. Depending on the laser therapy used, the treatment area may heal within 7 to 14 days.
Prevention of Skin Cancer
Although not every case of skin cancer can be prevented, the best way to avoid it is to protect skin from the sun. Recommendations for preventing skin cancer include the following:
- Limit exposure to the skin, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Always wear sun screen with an SPF of at least 15
- Wear a hat in the sun
- Wear long sleeves and long pants
- Avoid tanning beds and salons
Performing routine self-exams to spot skin changes and seeing a dermatologist for a full-body screening on a regular basis are also recommended.
Skin Cancer Treatment FAQ
What’s the best treatment for skin cancer?
Often, the best treatment is surgical removal, including Mohs surgery or excision. However, your skin cancer’s type, location, and extent will determine your treatment type.
How fast does skin cancer spread?
Generally, basal cell carcinoma spreads slowly and doesn’t usually metastasize to other parts of the body. Squamous cell carcinoma may also be slow to spread; however, some forms of this type of skin cancer can grow rapidly. Melanoma is usually the fastest-growing type of skin cancer.
Does insurance cover skin cancer removal?
In most cases, insurance plans cover skin cancer removal as a medically necessary procedure. The degree of coverage may vary, though, so check with our front desk specialists or billing representatives for more specific information.
Do all skin cancer types need to be removed?
It is usually best to remove any type of skin cancer, even basal cell carcinoma. Removal protects your skin and your health.
What happens if I don’t seek help for skin cancer?
The risks of not treating skin cancer depend on your skin cancer type. In general, though, you jeopardize your health by allowing skin cancer to go untreated. Untreated melanoma and Merkel cell carcinoma can become life-threatening very quickly, and while other skin cancers may be less aggressive, they also present a risk to your health.
How deep is the cut for basal cell carcinoma?
Your doctor will excise the skin cancer as deeply as necessary to remove it completely. Basal cell carcinomas generally range from .33 mm to 1.98 mm deep. Your doctor will also clear a margin around your skin cancer to ensure only healthy skin remains. With non-Mohs surgery, this margin usually ranges from 2 mm to 6 mm, depending on the cancer’s type, location, and risk.
Will I have a visible scar from skin cancer extraction?
Most skin cancer removal methods will leave a visible scar. Cryotherapy, laser ablation, and Mohs surgery tend to result in less scarring than other options, but they may still leave marks on the skin.