Skin Cancer Basics

With approximately 2.7 million cases diagnosed per year, skin cancers are the most common form of cancer in the United States. One out of every two men and one out of every three women in the US will eventually be diagnosed with a skin cancer. Here in Florida, with our intense sun exposure, skin cancer is even more prevalent. When diagnosed and treated early, 99% of skin cancers can be completely cured.

Dr. Catherine Balestra is has extensive training and experience in all treatment techniques for skin cancers, including Mohs surgery. She is a board-certified dermatologist and a fellow of the American Society for Mohs Surgery. Her philosophy is to treat all her patients with compassion as if they were her own family member, and to use her training and expertise to make appropriate treatment recommendations specific to her patients and their treatment needs.

What Is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer occurs when normal skin cells divide (often from damage caused to the cells by sun exposure) and the new skin cells get genetically altered to make them more likely to turn into skin cancer. Also, some people inherit skin from their parents that is more likely to develop skin cancer. Once enough mutations develop in these skin cells, they turn into a skin cancer.

What Causes Skin Cancer

Risk factors for developing skin cancers include fair skin that easily burns, chronic or intermittent sun exposure, personal or family history of skin cancer, prior radiation therapy, arsenic exposure, and immunosuppression.

Types of Skin Cancer

Three types of skin cancer account for almost 99% of all skin cancers: Basal Cell Carcinoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma, and Melanoma. Although each of these 3 types of skin cancers have common presentations and clinical behavior described below, they can sometimes look and act unpredictably. Therefore, if you notice anything unusual about a skin lesion, you should have it checked by a dermatologist specializing in skin cancer.

Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer comprising about 75% of all skin cancer. It’s cells originate in the base of the hair follicle, thus the name “basal” cell. This skin cancer usually develops on skin that gets sun exposure, such as on the head and neck, but it is possible to get BCC on any part of the body, including the trunk, legs, and arms. BCC often appears like a pearly bump, but can also look like a blemish that won’t heal or a pink scaly spot. Treatment is important because BCC can grow deep and wide, destroying skin, cartilage and bone, and can very rarely spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. With early detection and treatment, BCC can be cured.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common form of skin cancer with roughly 700,000 cases detected each year. SCC originates from the skin cells at the very top of the skin called the epidermis that acts as our first skin barrier to the sun. This skin cancer tends to develop on skin that has been exposed to the sun for years and most likely to develop on sun-exposed areas, such as the head, neck, back of the hands, arms and legs. It is possible to get SCC on any part of the body, including the inside of the mouth, lips, and genitals. SCC often appears like a pink scaly bump or patch on skin or wart-like on mucosal surfaces. SCC can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. With early diagnosis and treatment, SCC is highly curable.

Melanoma is the most deadly kind of skin cancer. Approximately 3% of all skin cancers are melanomas and anyone can get melanoma, even dark skinned individuals. When found early and treated, the cure rate is nearly 100%. But when allowed to grow, melanoma can spread to other parts of the body. It can spread quickly and when it spreads, it can be deadly. Melanoma can appear as a changing mole or a new mole. Often melanomas have more than one color, irregular borders and are not uniform in size or shape. They can arise on any skin or mucosal surface including non-sun-exposed areas. Over 75% of skin cancer related deaths are from melanoma, but early detection and treatment of melanoma can be life saving.