About skin cancer diagnosis and treatment in Franklin, TN
While a rash or skin disease may be concerning, the diagnosis of cancer is downright frightening. Thankfully, you don’t have to face it alone. The team at CoolSprings Laser, Aesthetic & Skin Care Center is known for compassionate, respectful care and clinical excellence in a variety of treatments, including diagnosis and removal of skin cancer.
Your first line of defense – skin cancer prevention
Skin cancer is a superficial malignant tumor, which can spread rapidly and destroy healthy tissue. It begins with mutations of DNA in skin cells, which are usually caused by unprotected UV exposure. Depending on the type of cancer, it may spread to other areas of the body, even impacting vital organs and the lymphatic system. Some skin cancers can be disfiguring or fatal, though nearly all can be removed if diagnosed in the earliest stages.
The best way to protect yourself is by protecting your skin from the sun. There are many myths, such as “a light tan is safe,” or “you don’t need sunscreen on cloudy days.” In reality, there is no safe level of UV exposure, because even minor damage can stay with you for life. Every suntan or sunburn increases your long-term risk of developing cancer. Additionally, sunlight does not need to be bright or warm in order to be hazardous. Even if you are behind a window, in a car, or venturing outside in winter, you still need sun protection.
Your second line of defense – early detection
Preventive measures are not a replacement for regular self-checks and professional cancer screening. As mentioned above, UV damage is cumulative. Maybe you wear sunscreen most days but forget occasionally. Maybe you had plenty of childhood sunburns, but you are very careful now. Even occasional or long-past exposure increases the risk. Additionally, a small percentage of cancers are not associated with UV exposure.
Self-checks should be performed regularly and include every inch of your body. Use mirrors as necessary or ask your partner for assistance in checking hard-to-see areas. The scalp is one of the most often forgotten areas, yet it is frequently exposed to sun unless you wear a hat daily. If you are unable to check your scalp satisfactorily, try asking your hair stylist for assistance.
What should you look for? The simple answer is any new, changing, or unusual skin lesion. Get to know your skin, familiarize yourself with the location and appearance of existing benign moles. If you notice something suspicious, schedule an evaluation. You can remember the common signs of skin cancer as “ABCDE.” When you notice a skin spot or “mole” ask yourself the following questions. If the answer to any of them is “yes,” schedule an evaluation right away.
- Asymmetrical – Is the lesion an irregular shape? (i.e. one half does not mirror the other)
- Border – Are the edges of the lesion jagged, rough, or not clearly defined?
- Coloring – Is the spot multi-colored, or an unusual color such as black?
- Diameter – Is the lesion larger around than a typical pencil?
- Evolving appearance – Does the size, shape, color, or anything else about the lesion change over time? Is it growing?
Types of skin cancer
There are several forms of skin cancer. Some are deadlier than others, and some are more common. However, any cancer poses a significant health risk, requiring prompt medical treatment. It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of skin cancer in its various forms. Some of the most common include:
- Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) – This is most common among fair-skinned individuals, but it can also affect those with dark skin. It may appear red in color, bumpy, or scaly. It can also manifest as a recurring “wound” that seems to heal, and then reopens.
- Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) – This is the most prevalent type of skin cancer. Like SCC, it can affect anyone, though fair-skinned people have the highest risk. BCC tumors are usually raised, and flesh-colored or pinkish. They can appear anywhere on the body.
- Melanoma cancer – Although less common than SCC or BCC, melanoma has a reputation as the killer cancer. It may look like a mole, with unusual shape, size, or color (see ABCDE discussed above). With early treatment, melanoma patients have a high survival rate. However, it grows quickly, making prompt detection critical.
- Actinic keratoses (AK) – Technically, this is not a type of skin cancer. In fact, if may be benign. However, a high percentage of AK lesions become cancerous, turning into SCC. Therefore, removal is usually recommended as a preventive measure. AK growths, also called precancers, appear as small, scaly, dry patches, usually on areas of the body that receive frequent sun exposure.
How is skin cancer treated?
Effective treatment requires completely eliminating the cancer, because any remaining malignant cells will grow and spread the disease. Usually, this means the tumor is removed in its entirety. However, in certain circumstances it may be treated with procedures that kill the cancer without removing tissue. The best procedure depends on many factors, including the location of the tumor, type of cancer, and how advanced it is.
The most common treatments include:
- Cryotherapy – Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze the skin lesion, which then sloughs off. This technique is used on precancers, and in certain circumstances on cancerous tumors.
- Excision – The common method of skin cancer surgery, this technique uses a scalpel to remove the tumor.
- Mohs – This specialized surgical technique is similar to standard excision, but removes the tumor in thin layers, while mapping the location of cancerous cells between each step. It may be used for particularly large or aggressive cancers.
- Curettage and electrodesiccation – Layers of the tumor are scraped away, while electricity is used to kill any remaining cancerous cells.
- Chemotherapy – This technique uses medication to kill cancerous cells. It may be used for advanced tumors that have spread to affect many areas of the body.
- PDT (photodynamic therapy) – A gentle light-based treatment, PDT may be used for some cancers, and it is frequently used to remove precancerous AK lesions.
When to seek medical help
Has it been more than a year since your last skin cancer screening? Do you have a potentially suspicious mole or other skin lesion? Have you been diagnosed with skin cancer, and you are seeking treatment options? If you answered “yes,” to any of these, please call us right away at (615) 784-3223 to schedule an appointment.
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