Skin cancer develops when there is abnormal growth of skin cells. This abnormal growth usually occurs in areas that are exposed to the sun.
There are three major types of skin cancers – basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Of the three, melanoma is the most aggressive and the deadliest.
What are the warning signs of skin cancer?
You may think that brown spots, moles, and skin growths are harmless; unfortunately, this is not always the case. Premier Surgical Surgical Oncologist Dr. Ana Wilson advises if you want to detect skin cancer early, it’s important to pay attention to any changes in your skin especially if you notice new growths or moles. She recommends that you check your skin monthly and bring any spots that appear darker or larger to the attention of your dermatologist or primary caregiver.
At Premier Surgical Associates of Knoxville and Cleveland, TN, our physicians use the ABCDE assessment, which stands for asymmetry, border, color, diameter, and evolving.
Below, we explain the ABCDE assessment and offer questions to ask yourself to help you understand what to look for when you notice any changes in your skin.
Asymmetry: Does the mole or spot have an irregular shape?
Melanoma is often asymmetrical. This means that the shape is not uniform. A non-cancerous mole usually has a uniform and symmetrical shape.
Border: Are the outer edges of the mole or spot jagged or uneven?
When you look at the border or edges of melanomas, they are not well-defined or regular in shape. They are uneven, ragged, or blurred.
Color: Does the mole have more than one color?
Benign moles are typically one color. Cancerous moles can be of different shades of black, tan, pink, purple, or white.
Diameter: Is the spot or mole larger than the size of a pencil eraser?
Any mole that’s larger in diameter than ¼ inch should be checked.
Evolving: Has the spot or mole changed in the last few weeks or months?
Watch out for moles or lesions that change in characteristics, be it in size, shape, or color. If you notice any new skin growths, watch it for signs of changes.
Are you at risk?
Anyone can get skin cancer regardless of skin color. However, you have a higher risk of developing it if you:
• Have excessive sun exposure
• Are fair-skinned
• Have a large number of moles on your skin
• Have a family history of skin cancer
• Have a weakened immune system
How to treat skin cancer?
Surgery is the most common form of treatment for skin cancer. The most common types of surgeries used for treating skin cancer are:
This procedure involves the removal of the growth and its surrounding border of tissue.
• Curettage and Electrodessication
This procedure is usually used for smaller lesions. It involves scraping off the growth and treating the tumor site with an electric needle to destroy the cancer cells.
• Lymph Node Surgery
This involves the removal of the lymph nodes to check for the presence or spread (metastasis) of cancer.
• Mohs Micrographic Surgery
In this procedure, thin layers of tissue containing the tumor are removed and examined. If cancer cells are detected, additional layers are removed and examined until the skin samples are free of cancer cells.
Your surgical options will depend on several factors such as the type and size of your skin cancer, its location, and your overall health.
For more aggressive types of skin cancer, surgery may be followed with other treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Is skin cancer preventable?
While there is no sure-fire way to prevent skin cancer, there are things you can do to reduce your risk. Dr. Wilson stresses that everyone should wear sunscreen daily, year-round, even when it looks cloudy outside. She says sun protective clothing is a great way to shield your skin. You should also avoid tanning and tanning beds.
Again, if you notice any new or unusual growths in your skin, have them checked by a physician. Just like other cancer types, there is a better treatment outcome for skin cancer if it’s detected and treated earlier.
The surgeons of Premier Surgical Associates in Knoxville and Cleveland, TN are experienced in assessing and treating all types of skin cancers. Visit our Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers page for more information.