Skin Cancer - And Your Plastic Surgeon
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United
States. More than 500,000 new cases are reported each year-and
the incidence is rising faster than any other type of cancer.
While skin cancers can be found on any part of the body,
about 80 percent appear on the face, head, or neck, where
they can be disfiguring as well as dangerous.
The purpose of this website is to educate you about the
different types of skin cancer, their causes, and preventive
measures you can take; to help you know when to consult
a doctor; and to explain the role of the plastic surgeon
in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer and other
Watch this Important Video: Dear 16 Year Old Me
This film was made possible thanks to the generosity of real people whose lives have been touched by melanoma. These are not actors. We cannot thank this group enough for sharing their stories with us.
WHO GETS SKIN CANCER ...AND WHY
The primary cause of skin cancer is ultraviolet radiation
-most often from the sun, but also from artificial sources
like sunlamps and tanning booths. In fact, researchers believe
that our quest for the perfect tan, an increase in outdoor
activities, and perhaps the thinning of the earth's protective
ozone layer are behind the alarming rise we're now seeing
in skin cancers.
Anyone can get skin cancer-no matter what your skin type,
race or age, no matter where you live or what you do. But
your risk is greater if...
- Your skin is fair and freckles easily.
- You have light-colored hair and eyes.
- You have a large number of moles, or
moles of unusual size or shape.
- You have a family history of skin cancer or a personal
history of blistering sunburn.
- You spend a lot of time working or playing
- You live closer to the equator, at a
higher altitude, or in any place that gets intense, year-round
- You received therapeutic radiation treatments
for adolescent acne.
TYPES OF SKIN CANCER
By far the most common type of skin cancer is basal cell
carcinoma. Fortunately, it's also the least dangerous kind--it
tends to grow slowly, and rarely spreads beyond its original
site. Though basal cell carcinoma is seldom life-threatening,
if left untreated it can grow deep beneath the skin and
into the underlying tissue and bone, causing serious damage
(particularly if it's located near the eye).
Squamous cell carcinoma is the next most common kind of
skin cancer, frequently appearing on the lips, face, or
ears. It sometimes spreads to distant sites, including lymph
nodes and internal organs. Squamous cell carcinoma can become
life threatening if it's not treated.
A third form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, is the
least common, but its incidence is increasing rapidly, especially
in the Sunbelt states. Malignant melanoma is also the most
dangerous type of skin cancer. If discovered early enough,
it can be completely cured. If it's not treated quickly,
however, malignant melanoma may spread throughout the body
and is often deadly.
OTHER SKIN GROWTHS YOU SHOULD KNOW
Two other common types of skin growths are moles and keratoses.
Moles are clusters of heavily pigmented skin cells, either
flat or raised above the skin surface. While most pose no
danger, some-particularly large moles present at birth,
or those with mottled colors and poorly defined borders-may
develop into malignant melanoma. Moles are frequently removed
for cosmetic reasons, or because they're constantly irritated
by clothing or jewelry (which can sometimes cause pre-cancerous
Solar or actinic keratoses are rough, red or brown, scaly
patches on the skin. They are usually found on areas exposed
to the sun, and sometimes develop into squamous cell cancer.
RECOGNIZING SKIN CANCER
Basal and squamous cell carcinomas can vary widely in appearance.
The cancer may begin as small, white or pink nodule or bumps;
it can be smooth and shiny, waxy, or pitted on the surface.
Or it might appear as a red spot that's rough, dry, or scaly...a
firm, red lump that may form a crust...a crusted group of
nodules...a sore that bleeds or doesn't heal after two to
four weeks...or a white patch that looks like scar tissue.
Malignant melanoma is usually signaled by a change in the
size, shape, or color of an existing mole, or as a new growth
on normal skin. Watch for the "ABCD" warning signs of melanoma:
Asymmetry-a growth with unmatched halves; Border irregularity-ragged
or blurred edges; Color-a mottled appearance, with shades
of tan, brown, and black, sometimes mixed with red, white,
or blue; and Diameter- a growth more than 6 millimeters
across (about the size of a pencil eraser), or any unusual
increase in size.
If all these variables sound confusing, the most important
thing to remember is this: Get to know your skin and examine
it regularly, from the top of your head to the soles of
your feet. (Don't forget your back.) If you notice any unusual
changes on any part of your body, have a doctor check it