Skin Cancer in Arizona
Keep Your Skin Healthy with Frequent Screenings and Treatment
Dermatologists diagnose and treat any number of skin conditions, but there is one that warrants added attention and concern: skin cancer. Arizona patients who experience prolonged and intense sun exposure can mitigate their risk by undergoing annual skin cancer screening examinations. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. More than 1 million cases are diagnosed each year. With early detection and proper treatment, skin cancer is highly curable. The average cure rate when detected and treated in the early stages is 95 percent. Even melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, has a high cure rate with early detection and treatment.
In addition to offering screenings for skin cancer, Ironwood Dermatology's providers teach patients how to examine their own skin for early warning signs. Skin self-examinations consist of regularly looking over the entire body, including the back, scalp, soles of feet, between the toes, and on the palms of hands. To do a thorough exam, it is important to use both full-length and hand-held mirrors so that it is possible to see the back of the head, back, and buttocks.
What Causes Skin Cancer?
There are several factors that increase the likelihood of developing skin cancer, but sun exposure is the best known and most likely of these causes. Other factors include genetic predisposition, family history, and medical conditions and medications that weaken the immune system. Patients with increased risk factors should discuss preventative measures with their dermatologist and commit to annual skin screenings.
Skin Cancer Types
There are three major types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma. With an estimated annual incidence in the United States of 900,000, the most common type of skin cancer (and all cancer, for that matter) is basal cell carcinoma (BCC). The lifetime risk of developing BCC for Caucasian people is about 35 percent in men and 25 percent in women. BCC is thought to arise from hair follicle stem cells that lie below the surface of the skin. It typically occurs in areas of chronic sun exposure and often has a waxy or pearly appearance. Although BCC is usually slow growing and very rarely spreads (metastasizes) to other organs of the body, if left untreated, it can be quite disfiguring. Fortunately, the prognosis is excellent with proper therapy. Treatment typically involves either surgical excision or removal via electrodessication and curettage (a simple "scrape and burn" technique).
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), the second most common type of skin cancer, afflicts about 200,000 Americans per year. It arises from the epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin, and like BCC, tends to occur on sun-exposed areas. The rim of the ear and the lower lip are particularly vulnerable to development of SCC. These cancers often present as wart-like growth that crust and occasionally bleed. Although most are diagnosed early enough to successfully treat with surgical excision or electrodessication and curettage, untreated SCC can metastasize to distant tissues and can be fatal.
Malignant melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. More than 50,000 new cases are reported each year, and the incidence is rising more rapidly than any other type of cancer. The tumor originates in melanocytes, the cells that give skin, hair, and eyes their pigment. Therefore, most melanomas are black or brown in color, but they can sometimes be pink, purple, red, or skin-colored. They tend to be flat, with irregularly shaped borders. If diagnosed and surgically removed early, the cure rate approaches 100 percent. As the cancer advances, the risk of metastasis to other organs increases dramatically. Once this occurs, treatment is difficult, and many cases result in death.
The most important thing you can do to limit your risk of developing one of these types of cancer is to protect your skin from the sun by avoiding sun exposure from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., wearing sun protective clothing, and using sunscreen routinely. It is also important to examine your skin monthly for any suspicious growths and new or changing moles. If you notice anything unusual, see your dermatologist for an evaluation. If you do in fact have skin cancer, it will in all likelihood be curable.
What Can I Expect During a Skin Cancer Exam or Treatment in Arizona?
The first step to treatment is to schedule an appointment with one of our dermatologists, who will examine your skin for any indications of cancer. Any suspicious lesions will be biopsied and sent to a lab for testing. If the biopsy reveals skin cancer, your dermatologist will discuss treatment options.
Treatment for skin cancer varies according to the cancer's type, location, extent, and aggressiveness, and the patient's general health. The goals of treatment for skin cancer are to remove all of the cancer, reduce the chance of recurrence, preserve healthy skin tissue, and minimize scarring after surgery.
With early detection and proper treatment, skin cancer is highly curable. The average cure rate when detected and treated in the early stages is 95 percent. Even melanoma, the most deadly form of cancer, yields a 95 percent cure rate when limited to the outermost layers of the skin.