Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in America, and it can affect almost anyone. People with fair skin are at an elevated risk for skin cancer because their lighter skin cannot naturally reject the sun’s UV light as well as people with more melanin, but even those with darker complexions can get skin cancer. And while older Americans tend to develop skin cancer more often than younger people given the years during which they can have endured sun damage, even people in their 20s can develop both non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancer.
About 1 in 4 Americans will get some type of skin cancer in their lifetime, so nearly 25,000 people currently living in Worcester, MA can expect skin cancer to be a part of their lives at some point. You can reduce the chance that you will develop skin cancer by always wearing sunblock on exposed skin when outside, wearing clothing that covers your skin when possible, by making sure the windows of your vehicles and home are tinted with UV-blocking window film, and by never using tanning beds. But even with all the best precautions in the world, you may still develop skin cancer. Knowing what to look for and what to do if that happens can help you deal with the cancer appropriately if it ever occurs.
Basal cell carcinoma skin cancer occurs when the skin’s basal cells, which are responsible for producing new skin cells in the epidermis, the outer layer of skin, begin to divide uncontrollably, creating a cancerous growth in the skin. Basal cell carcinoma, which is often shortened to BCC, is the most common and least dangerous type of skin cancer and with proper basal cell cancer care it is rarely a severe medical issue and hardly ever life threatening. But BCC is only so moderate of an issue when you promptly seek treatment after identifying the cancer. If you think you might have skin cancer, get to a Worcester dermatologist immediately and get yourself checked out.
Squamous cell carcinoma, or SCC, is a much faster spreading skin cancer than BCC. It can aggressively spread on the skin and can also penetrate down into the skin and beyond, eventually reaching lymph nodes and other organs. Once SCC spreads to other organs in the body, the five year survival rate plummets to below 50%, and that’s even with aggressive cancer treatment. The good news is that when diagnosed and treated early, SCC is as readily curable as basal cell cancer and has an almost 100% survival rate when intervention is commenced swiftly. Annual skin checks at a Worcester dermatologist (or bi-annual checks for those at higher risk for developing cancer) and frequent self checks are your best tool on staying safe from SCC or any other type of skin cancer.
Once melanoma begins to spread, it quickly becomes a hard to cure and seriously life threatening cancer. Melanoma accounts for only about 5% of skin cancer cases in America yet leads to more than 75% of the deaths caused by skin cancer. While potentially very serious and even fatal, when detected early and treated aggressively, melanoma is curable and even has a 99% five year survival rate for those patients who commence melanoma skin cancer treatment right away once the disease is diagnosed.
Skin cancer presents itself in a number of different ways, so knowing the many symptoms can help you identify the signs of skin cancer that show up on your own body. But a skin cancer self diagnosis should only be one step of the process, and a step that leads you to going to a Worcester skin cancer doctor immediately if you think you see any skin cancer symptoms or even something that might be an indication of cancer on the skin.
Melanoma usually presents itself in the form of an irregular mole, and especially in a new mole that changes and grows noticeably over time. (Melanoma only shows up in extant moles in about 20% to 30% of cases.) There is a simple device skin cancer dermatologists teach patients to use when examining a mole for potential symptoms of melanoma, and it uses the first five letters of the alphabet. A is for Asymmetry, as healthy moles tend to be uniform in shape while cancerous moles can have uneven outlines. B is for Borders, because normal moles have clear, obvious borders while cancerous moles have ill defined borders that may fade into nearby healthy tissue. C is for color, as healthy moles are usually solid in color, while melanoma tends to present as moles with blotches or varied color patches. D is for diameter, as moles that are a result of skin cancer tend to be much larger than regular moles, often quickly growing more than a quarter inch across. E is for evolving; healthy moles look the same for years and even decades, while melanoma moles change over the course of weeks.
Non-melanoma skin cancer can be hard to identify because the symptoms can look so different from one case to the next and can also look like other skin issues or even common skin conditions that are usually benign. If you see any of these symptoms or anything else on your skin that gives you concern, get to your Worcester, MA dermatologist right away. And remember, photos of skin cancer might not show you symptoms like you see on your body, so don’t rely on skin cancer images, rely on skin cancer experts.
The most common symptoms of non-melanoma skin cancer include flaky patches of skin that may be yellow or gray and that slough off from time to time (and may look like age spots), raised bumps with a pink or red color and a shiny exterior (that may look like small scars or acne), open sores or lesions that fester and don’t heal properly, large and usually shaped brown spots, and in rarer cases, as blue or purple splotches on the skin.
Get to a Worcester skin cancer specialist right away if you spot any of these symptoms on your skin or on a loved one’s body.
There are plenty of excellent skin cancer doctors in Worcester, MA so finding the best care for skin cancer in Worcester won’t be hard to do. You do, however, need to pick a doctor who will make the right partner for you based on your needs both as a cancer patient and as a person who wants to be an active participant in planning your care. Depending on the type and severity of your skin cancer, you may be treated by a dermatologist with a general practice or by a surgical oncologist for more advanced and severe cases of skin cancer.
Skin cancer doctors in Worcester, MA can use a number of techniques to treat skin cancer. Growths caught very early or even in the precancerous stage can often be treated with applications of liquid nitrogen (cryosurgery) that can freeze off the afflicted tissue, curettage in which cancerous tissue is carefully scraped away with a sharp tool, topical medication treatment, laser surgery, or a few other skin cancer treatment options.
For more advanced skin cancers, or for skin cancer that has already resisted another course of treatment, many doctors recommend Mohs surgery, a process where layers of cancerous tissue are removed and then immediately examined with more tissue sliced away until no cancer is found during testing. Mohs surgery has a 98% successful cure rate.
Not all patients are good candidates for Mohs surgery despite its high cure rate, though. The elderly, people with clotting issues, patients who respond poorly to anesthetics, and others may need a different option for skin cancer treatment, and often the answer is Superficial Radiation Therapy.
Superficial Radiation Therapy, also called SRT, is highly effective at destroying cancer cells and curing you of the disease, and it is so minimally invasive it can be used in sensitive cases, like skin cancer on the nose or lips, and it enjoys a cure rate matching that of Mohs surgery. SRT uses concentrated doses of radiation delivered directly to the cancerous cells. The radiation used only penetrates down to five millimeters into the skin at most, protecting the healthy tissue beneath the cancer. Multiple sessions are required over the course of several weeks so the delivery of radiation can be limited to doses that will not damage healthy skin around the cancer, and thus there are essentially no side effects from this minimally uncomfortable procedure. Your Worcester skin cancer doctors can use the Sensus Healthcare SRT-100 device to deliver radiation treatment for skin cancer right there in the office, no hospitalization needed, and you can get about the rest of your day as usual following each session of this outpatient procedure.