If you’re worried about skin cancer, know that you’re not the only one. One in five people will develop this type of cancer in their lifetime, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Skin cancers are characterized by abnormal growths on or just below the skin. Because most cancerous growths are readily visible upon examination, they are usually easy to diagnose, remove, and treat.
With moles and other skin spots that may look suspicious, everybody should start getting regularly checked for skin cancer once they reach middle-age or even earlier if they have a family history of skin cancer. The good news is that, many times, moles are regular in shape and color or have other characteristics that dermatologists can use to effectively rule out melanoma without performing a biopsy.
For both basic screenings and more serious cases, we wanted to provide a guide so that our patients know what to expect. We’ll start with some basic information about the nature of skin cancer, and then we’ll quickly move into specific details about screenings, biopsies, and potential treatments.
Types of Skin Cancer
Across multiple layers and different types of cells, the skin is vulnerable to the uncontrolled growth and cell division that causes many types of cancer. Early detection and treatment are critical for every skin cancer, but some types are more aggressive than others. There is a handful of very rare cancers including Merkel cell carcinoma, cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, and Kaposi sarcoma. However, most skin cancer cases fit into one of three categories:
Basal Cell Carcinoma: Comprising about 80-85 percent of all skin cancers, this type of carcinoma usually appears as small moles. Slow-growing and usually easy to identify, they are still cancerous and should be examined and removed. Moreover, it’s important to be diligent with future skin cancer screenings once you’ve had basal cell carcinoma diagnosed and removed.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma: About 10 percent of skin cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. This cancer begins in the upper layers of the epidermis but has a higher potential to grow deeper into the skin and spread to the rest of the body. Potentially deadly but generally slow-growing, squamous cell carcinomas are a great example of why it’s so important to get regular checkups.
Melanoma: About 5 percent of skin cancers are the more dangerous melanomas. Like basal cell carcinomas, this cancer begins in the deeper layers of the epidermis—specifically, pigment-producing melanocytes. These cancers have a higher potential to metastasize and spread throughout the body.
Five Stages of Skin Cancer
There are five distinct stages of skin cancer. In the earliest stages, tumors may be difficult to detect at all. In the later stages, the cancer reaches the lymph nodes and threatens to spread to other parts of the body. Knowing both the type and stage of skin cancer is essential for evaluating the risk and for creating the best possible treatment plan.
Stage 0—When a cancerous growth initially forms in the skin and is still confined to a poorly defined tumor.
Stage 1—When the tumor becomes more defined and embedded in the dermis. The cancerous growth is still less than 2mm thick. There may be the earliest signs of visible ulceration.
Stage 2—When the tumor is more than 2mm thick and there is a visible ulcer but no indications that the tumor has spread to lymph nodes.
Stage 3—When the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes but without any evidence that the cancer has spread to distant organs.
Stage 4—When the tumor has metastasized and reached distant body organs. The cancer may be discovered in vital organs, soft tissues, or other lymph nodes.
Know What to Expect
Here are patient resource guides for different aspects of skin cancer care from a certified dermatologist. Know what to look for. Know what precautionary steps to take. And know what to expect when skin cancer is discovered.
- Screenings: Find out roughly what age to start screenings, and recognize why it’s especially important to get regular skin cancer screenings in our region of the country.
- Symptoms: Before you start seeing a dermatologist on a regular basis, or in between screenings as you get older, it’s good to know what the symptoms of skin cancer look like so you can perform self-exams on a periodic basis.
- Biopsies: No matter what procedure is used, this is a quick and noninvasive step that can be carried out at our dermatology clinic. We’ll also make sure we communicate the biopsy results in a clear and timely manner.
- Treatment: In addition to removing the cancerous growth, more advanced cases of skin cancer will warrant further treatment.
When to See a Doctor for Skin Cancer
Only a doctor can recommend and administer skin cancer treatment, which means you will need to have abnormal growths reviewed by a dermatologist or other physician. If you notice a new or strange-looking growth and live in the St. Louis area, make an appointment at our Chesterfield office. Only a medical professional can determine whether the growth is benign or cancerous.
*Results may vary per patient.
Everyone in the office is very helpful and kind - they truly care for each patient and their individual needs. Thank you!
This is an awesome office! All the staff are so friendly and caring! If you have a dermatological problem, then they will do everything in their power to help you! I definitely recommend them.
Dr. Blattel is the best I've been seeing her for 10+ years!