Skin cancers can have an innocent appearance, so it's possible that even someone who takes good care of his or her skin may not realize how important it is to get a lesion, mark, or mole checked out by an expert. If it turns out to be a skin cancer, every day you wait will allow the cancer to grow larger, making its treatment more difficult. While there are many different treatment options for skin cancers, if surgical removal is necessary, you want the cancer to be as small as possible.
Note that your esthetician may be aware of skin cancer symptoms and may be able to alert you to a change in your skin; however, he or she is not allowed to make a diagnosis. Your practitioner may, though, be able to provide you with an appropriate referral to a dermatologist or other physician.
Following is a brief overview of the most common types of skin cancer. Additional details can be found at www.skincancer.org, the website of the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Basal Cell Carcinoma Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer. It arises from the outer layer of the skin, and it has a strong relationship to sun exposure. It usually invades and destroys tissue only in the area where it is; spreading to another part of the body is rare. A typical BCC has a pearly or waxy nodule with a rolled border and tiny spider veins on and around it.
Squamous Cell Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common form of malignant skin cancer. It accounts for about 10 percent of all skin malignancies. It is also most commonly seen on sun-damaged skin, but it can arise without sun exposure or from various preexisting skin lesions, such as actinic keratoses, burn scars, radiation-exposed or treated skin, or even in areas of chronic skin irritation. SCC is most often "local" but can spread to surrounding tissues or even other parts of the body. SCCs most often are found in red, irritated, sun-damaged skin. They often have a scaly, red, crusted appearance and may have an ulcer in them. The tissue is often fragile and may bleed easily when rubbed.
Malignant Melanoma Malignant melanoma is the least common of the three main types of skin cancer, but it is the most dangerous. While there are several varieties of malignant melanoma, the only thing you absolutely need to know about them is that any of them can be deadly; malignant melanoma accounts for most of the deaths related to skin cancer. The most disturbing statistic is that despite public education campaigns about the dangers of sun exposure and skin cancer, the incidence of malignant melanoma in the United States continues to rise. Fair-skinned people, such as blondes and redheads in particular, need to watch their skin closely.
Any mole or pigmented spot on their body that changes in any way should be checked. If it gets bigger, darker, changes shape, has irregular edges, is or becomes asymmetric, has light and dark areas in it, or ever bleeds, it should be checked immediately. The ABCDs of melanoma are: - A: Asymmetry - B: Borders that are irregular - C: Color changes - D: Diameter that is enlarging
With early detection and treatment, most can be successfully removed and the patient completely cured. However, if not detected and treated early, these killers can spread to the lungs, the liver, the brain, and elsewhere.
Other Skin Things It is important to note that not everything that shows up on the skin is a skin cancer. Unfortunately, with age often comes a lot of skin "things." Actinic keratoses (patches of sun- damaged skin) are often seen as patches of dry, scaly skin that can be red and irritated. These are most often found on frequently sun-exposed areas of the body, such as the head and neck. If treated properly, these will go away. If left untreated, up to 20 percent will turn into skin cancer.
Seborrheic keratoses are often scary-looking skin lesions that enlarge over time. They are generally pigmented, and have a raised, wart-looking appearance. Cosmetically they can be unsightly, but fortunately have little potential to turn into skin cancer.
Dermatitis (irritation of the skin) comes in as many different shapes, sizes, varieties, and causes as you can think of. Things such as new laundry soap or a new piece of jewelry can cause what is known as contact dermatitis (irritation of the skin when something contacts it). Often these will go away on their own, but treatments are available to reduce discomfort.
Advice to Live By Remember, most of the things on the skin are not skin cancer. But for that small percentage that are, often the only way to know is to have it checked by a skin care expert. Early detection and treatment of skin cancer is the key to successful treatment and cure. Have any questionable spot on your skin evaluated by a physician. If necessary, ask for a referral to a dermatologist or plastic surgeon in your area who treats skin cancers on a regular basis. When in doubt, check it out.
David V. Poole is a double board-certified plastic surgeon in Altamonte Springs, Florida. He can be reached at www.drpoolemd.com.
Excerpted and adapted from an article in Massage and Bodywork magazine. Copyright. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.