At Dermatology Associates of Atlanta, our mission is not only to provide comprehensive skin care from head to toe but also to educate our patients about caring for their skin and keeping it healthy. As part of this effort, we are shining the spotlight on one skin health condition each month, and this month, it’s all about skin cancer. While this condition can be serious, protecting yourself begins with learning about it.
What Is Skin Cancer?
Cancer is a disease in which the DNA within certain cells in your body is damaged. This mutates the abnormal cells in a way that makes them grow out of control. When this damage and mutation occurs in skin cells, it is called skin cancer. Skin cancer has the potential to spread to other areas of your body and lead to serious or life-threatening complications, so early detection is critical.
Types of Skin Cancer
Your skin is made up of many types of cells, and there are different types of skin cancer depending on the specific type of skin cell where cancer begins. The three primary types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
Basal cell carcinoma begins in the basal cell layer, which is the deepest layer of your epidermis. Squamous cell carcinoma begins in the squamous cell layer, which is the layer just above your basal cells. Finally, melanoma skin cancer begins in melanocytes, the cells in your skin that produce pigment. Melanoma is the rarest of these three types of skin cancer, but it also has a higher tendency to spread to other areas of the body, so it has the highest risk of severe complications.
What Causes Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is caused by unrepaired damage to the DNA of your skin cells. This is most often the result of accumulated UV exposure due to sunlight or tanning lights. However, skin cancer can actually occur in areas that have minimal sun exposure too. It’s also important to keep in mind that while some people have a higher risk of skin cancer, such as people with light skin and light-colored eyes, anyone can develop skin cancer.
Signs of Skin Cancer
Most people know that irregular moles are potential signs of skin cancer. This includes any mole that is changing, is made up of multiple colors, is particularly large, has an uneven shape, or has other unusual characteristics. A helpful guide is the “ABCDEs of melanoma”: be on the lookout for moles that have asymmetry, irregular borders, abnormal coloring, a large diameter, or evolution over time. Skin cancer doesn’t only occur in moles, though. A skin cancer lesion can look like a raised and flesh-colored bump, a sore that isn’t healing, or a dry scaly patch, for example. A slightly rough-textured spot could also be a pre-cancerous lesion called actinic keratosis.
Ultimately, if there is any spot on your skin that has changed, you should have it examined for potential skin cancer. This is why it’s so important to have a skin cancer screening every year by a board-certified dermatologist or physician assistant, in addition to regularly examining your skin at home for any changes. If you have a history of skin cancer or other high-risk factors, you may need skin cancer screenings multiple times per year based on your provider’s recommendation.
Treatments for Skin Cancer
The good news with skin cancer is that most cases are highly treatable. In fact, there are many skin cancer treatment options available depending on the type, location, and other characteristics of your skin cancer. These treatments may include:
- Photodynamic therapy, which uses a photosensitizer and a precise wavelength of light to target and damage cancer cells
- Topical chemotherapy which you apply to your skin, usually for several weeks
- Cryosurgery to “freeze off” cancerous cells
- Laser therapy to target and damage cancer cells
- Mohs skin cancer removal surgery is an advanced surgery that uses microscopic technology to remove the cancer lesion thoroughly while removing as little surrounding healthy tissue as possible. We are proud to have two experienced and skilled Mohs surgeons, Dr. D. Scott Karempelis and Dr. Joseph Payne, who can perform this surgery in our office.
If you are due for your annual skin cancer screening or if you have a spot on your skin you want to examine, call Dermatology Associates of Atlanta today to schedule your appointment. If you have a concerning spot, let us know and we will get you onto our schedule as quickly as possible. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more on our featured skin condition each month.