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Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer seen in the U.S. and the numbers of people affected are continuing to increase each year. There are three general types of skin cancer.

The most common type of skin cancer is BASAL CELL CARCINOMA. These usually occur on the head, neck, back or chest. Basal cell carcinoma can appear in different forms, but most often looks like a small pink or pearly raised bump that later develops an erosion or non-healing sore within it's center. This type of skin cancer continues to slowly enlarge and gradually invades deeper and deeper into the skin. However, basal cell carcinomas are very unlikely to ever spread internally. They can usually be easily treated by complete surgical removal.

A second type of skin cancer is called SQUAMOUS CELL CARCINOMA. These also occur mostly on the head and neck, but also frequently develop on the hands and arms. Squamous cell carcinoma appears as a rough, warty-like yellowish, hard growth with a pink edge. With time, the center can erode, causing a sore that bleeds easily. This type of skin cancer only rarely spreads. People who get squamous cell carcinoma often have many pre-cancerous rough white small spots on the sun-exposed areas of the hands, arms, and face that are called actinic keratoses. Both actinic keratoses and squamous cell carcinoma can be easily treated by complete surgical removal.

MELANOMA, or mole cancer, usually appears as a dark brown spot that slowly increases in size. Usually different shades of brown, blue, or black occur within the spot. Melanomas can appear anywhere on the body, but most commonly occur on the back, arms and legs. Melanoma can be very serious as it has the potential to spread internally. However, if detected in the early stages and promptly removed surgically, it can be completely cured. Fortunately, melanoma is the least common type of skin cancer.

Skin cancer is the result of accumulated sun damage to the skin over long periods of time. People with fair skin and little ability to tan are the most susceptible. People who have worked outdoors for many years or get excessive recreational sun exposure are at higher risk. Having had one skin cancer increases your risk of getting more, including all other types of skin cancer. This risk can be decreased by avoiding sun exposure, wearing protective clothing and hats, and regularly applying a sunscreen (SPF 15-30) to the constantly sun-exposed areas of the body, such as the face, neck and hands.

A small percentage of skin cancers will come back, regardless of the type of surgery performed to remove them. Therefore, you should return to our office 4-6 months after removal of a skin cancer so that the area can be examined for possible recurrence, as well as to screen for new skin cancers in other locations.

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