Get Diagnosis and Treatment for This Common Disease in Denver
Skin is the body’s largest organ. As such, it is routinely exposed to a number of factors that can impact its health. Current data shows that as many as one in five Americans will, at some point in his or her life, experience skin cancer. Denver’s AboutSkin Dermatology team (located in the Denver Tech Center and Lone Tree areas) takes care of hundreds of skin cancer patients a year. While we live in beautiful Colorado, our high altitude, number of days of sunshine (more than 300 a year), and outdoor lifestyles have contributed to a high incidence of skin cancer— higher than in many other regions of the United States and world. Note that although exposure to ultraviolet radiation is a significant risk factor in the disease’s development, genetics and other variables also play a part.
Skin cancer is a term that can evoke feelings of anxiety in many people. But the truth of the matter is that when diagnosed early and with selection of the right treatment, skin cancer can be highly treatable. Although a person may practice diligent sun protection, it is beneficial to visit the AboutSkin Dermatology office for skin checks at least once every year (or more frequently if there is a personal or family history of skin cancer). Our physicians are Board-Certified Dermatologists, and thus are trained on the nuances of what to look for and can employ technology such as a dermatoscope (a non-invasive, handheld imaging device) to aid in diagnosing skin cancer.
Types of Skin Cancer
There are many types of skin cancer, but three are responsible for more than 99 percent of all diagnoses: basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma. To understand these types, it is helpful to first learn about skin cells.
The outermost layer of skin is known as epidermis (literally “upon the skin”). The cells in the lowest part of this surface layer are basal cells. In the middle are squamous cells, which are eventually shed and replaced. Melanocytes are located in areas of the epidermis and produce pigment (including in response to sun exposure).
Ultraviolet radiation (from sun exposure and tanning salons) can damage the epidermis, leading to skin cancer.
Basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) are the most common type of skin cancer tumors. Basal cell carcinoma tends to be slower growing but should still be treated expeditiously. Given time, basal cell carcinoma can grow into adjacent tissues, including muscles, nerves, and even bone.
Squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) are the second most common type of skin cancer. Like basal cell carcinoma, SCCs are associated with sun-exposed areas of the body. But SCCs are more likely to spread, potentially to deeper tissue planes below the skin or regional areas, or even cause distant metastases.
Sometimes resembling common moles, melanomas are a more aggressive type of skin cancer that can readily spread not just to neighboring areas, but throughout the body. Every hour, one American dies from a melanoma in the United States. Early diagnosis and treatment is essential.
Note that many people develop actinic keratoses (AKs) in sun-exposed areas. These are rough and scaly lesions that are not cancerous, but are considered to be “precancer.” Although they may heal on their own, a medical dermatology specialist can examine them to determine an effective treatment regimen for the patient.
Skin Cancer Prevention is the Best Choice
Modern dermatologists have highly sophisticated, effective treatments. Many of these treatment modalities were unavailable several years ago, making skin cancer treatment highly successful at this point. That said, prevention is the best strategy. The AboutSkin Dermatology team of Board-Certified Dermatologists advises everyone to wear a physical block barrier sunscreen when going outside, whether the skies are sunny or cloudy. Avoiding peak late-morning and early-afternoon hours can minimize exposure to harmful rays.
Men and women alike are also strongly encouraged to perform monthly routine self-checks in order to spot potential signs of skin cancer. Lesions that appear suspicious can be shown to a dermatologist for closer scrutiny. Call and schedule a “spot check” right away for concerning lesions, and schedule a full-skin check at least once a year for an overall surveillance (or more frequently if you have a personal or family history of skin cancer). In general, watch for an alphabetic list of warning signs:
- A for Asymmetry: Moles that don’t have two halves that are mirror images of each other are suspicious.
- B for Border Irregularity: A clearly defined edge is preferable, while a hazy or scalloped perimeter should be examined.
- C for Color: Benign moles are typically uniform in color, so multicolored lesions warrant investigation.
- D for Diameter: Any raised spot larger than a pencil eraser in diameter should be shown to a dermatologist, but even smaller spots that are irregular should still be seen.
- E for Evolving: A mole or lesion that grows or changes in appearance over time—especially rapidly—is cause for a consultation.
Even if no concerning lesions are present, it is a good idea to schedule annual visits with a dermatologist, who will examine the skin, hair, nails, and more for signs of disease.
Skin Cancer Treatment Options
An examination may include a biopsy (sampling of the skin) to determine whether skin cancer is present in the tested tissue. If this test confirms the presence of cancer cells, treatment will depend on the time of cancer, its location on the body, its extent of growth, the current health of the patient, and more.
Mohs micrographic surgery is a highly effective treatment for both basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). This specialized technique takes thin layers of tissue, which are then thoroughly examined. The process repeats until no traces of residual skin cancer are seen. Because of the nature of melanoma, different treatments are recommended for that form of skin cancer.