There is more skin cancer in the United States than all other types of cancer combined. Several thousand people in the United States die of skin cancer each year and those who do not have their cancers treated appropriately or in a timely manner can become disfigured. Fortunately, most cases of skin cancer are very treatable.
Types of Skin Cancer
While several types of skin cancer exist, the most common are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma.
- Basal cell carcinomas often appear as a smooth, shiny bump with large blood vessels. Sometimes they will become opens sores and bleed easily.
- Squamous cell carcinomas can sometimes be painful. They tend to be pink or red and often are thick and scaly.
- Melanomas look like moles that are very dark and sometimes multicolored. They tend to be larger than regular moles and often have irregular shapes.
Several methods can be used to treat skin cancer depending on the type, size, and location of the cancer. The most effective treatment for cancers on the face is Mohs micrographic surgery (named for the inventor, Dr. Frederic Mohs). In this type of surgery, the cancer is removed, after which the tissue is processed so the physician can look at the specimen under the microscope to determine if the cancer is out. If any cancer cells are seen, the surgeon removes a small strip of skin in the area and the specimen is processed and examined again. Once the cancer cells are all removed, the physician repairs the wound caused by the cancer removal. In the great majority of cases, the site heals very well and no one will know surgery was done.
Like any other medical issue, prevention is optimal. Sunscreens have been proven to decrease the risk of skin cancer, but sun-protective clothing (such as wide-brimmed hats) can be even more effective. Sunglasses can help protect skin around the eyes. The sun’s ultraviolet rays are strongest from 10:00am to 4:00pm so extra care should be taken during that time. While tanning beds have a different ratio of ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B from the sun, the ultraviolet light they radiate can still cause skin cancer and other problems (brown spots, wrinkles, thin skin, etc.).
It is true the sun can be helpful with Vitamin D production, however, taking a small, inexpensive supplement each day is a safer way to obtain one’s Vitamin D.
Dr. Michael R. Hinckley is a board certified dermatologist and fellowship trained Mohs Micrographic Surgeon. He practices in various locations throughout the valley including Draper, Riverton and West Valley. Appointments can be made by calling 801.965.2799.
Originally printed in Granger Medical Clinic’s magazine, Spring 2014.