Case Studies from WellSpring Cancer Center
The Facts about Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is an abnormal, uncontrolled growth of skin cells. It occurs when mutations occur in healthy skin cells, most often due to ultraviolet radiation exposure. It can appear as moles, raised bumps, scaly patches or open sores and, though not always, most often develops on skin exposed to the sun. It is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with approximately one million people diagnosed annually.
Types of Skin Cancer
There are three primary types of skin cancer: squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma and melanoma.
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma occurs in the cells just below the skin’s outer surface. These cells function as the skin’s inner lining. Squamous cell carcinoma may appear as a firm red nodule or a scaly, flat lesion.
- Basal Cell Carcinoma occurs just beneath the skin’s inner lining in the cells that work to produce new skin cells. Basal cell carcinoma may appear as a small, smooth, pearly or waxy bump or as a pink, red or brown-colored lesion.
- Melanoma occurs in melanocytes, cells located in the lower part of the epidermis, which produce the skin’s pigment. Melanoma most often appears as a pigmented bump or patch, or as a mole with an irregular appearance such as asymmetry and uneven color that may change in size.
- Basal cell and squamous cell make up 95% of all skin cancers and are highly treatable when found early. These are known as non-melanoma skin cancers. Melanoma is more serious and causes 75% of all skin cancer deaths. If left untreated, it can spread to other areas of the body, making it difficult to control.
Risk Factors of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer can affect anyone. However, the following factors may increase a person’s risk of developing the disease:
- Excessive sun exposure
- Fair skin, light-colored eyes and blond/ red hair
- Numerous freckles
- History of sunburns
- Weakened immune system
- Family or personal history of skin cancer
Treatment for Skin Cancer
- Treatment of skin cancer depends on the type and degree of the disease, though surgery is often used to treat many skin cancers and is the typical treatment for melanoma – it may not be the best option for your patient. Treatment options include:
- Laser Therapy, in which an intense beam of light targets the growth with little damage to surrounding tissue. This is most often used to treat superficial skin cancers.
- Mohs Surgery involves the removal of the skin growth one layer at a time. Each layer is examined through a microscope until no abnormal cells remain. The procedure is often used for larger or recurring skin cancers, or those that may be more difficult to treat.
- Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. This treatment option is used for more advanced skin cancers that have spread to other areas of the body.
- Radiation Therapy may be used for patients when surgery is not an option. In many cases radiation therapy may be the best option and result in a better appearance of the skin afterwards.
- Radiation using electron beam is a type of radiation that uses an electron energy that will deposit the maximum dose in the skin and not reach deeper tissue.
- High Dose Rate (HDR) Brachytherapy is another radiation modality where the radioactive source is brought close to the target tissue. HDR skin applicators are now available to treat small skin cancers with very high success rates. With this technique, the course of radiation treatment can be safely delivered in a few days rather than several weeks and this has proven to be very useful for elderly patients where coming in for a prolonged course of treatment would be otherwise impossible.