Skin Cancer Q/A

Answers to skin cancer questions

By Vani Manyam, M.D., UAP Clinic Oncologist

Skin cancer is the most common form of all the cancers. Vani Manyam, UAP Clinic Oncologist, discusses the different types, treatment options and how to protect your skin.

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancers are malignant lesions that occur in the cells in the outer layer of the skin. These include less aggressive basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas and the more aggressive malignant melanoma.

What causes skin cancer?

Basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma or skin cancers are generally associated with exposure to ultraviolet light and most commonly found on sun-exposed areas such as the face, ears, neck, lips, and the backs of the hand; however, they can be found anywhere on the body.

What are my chances of getting skin cancer?

Besides exposure to ultraviolet light there are other risk factors associated with skin cancer. These include fair complexion; history of unprotected or excessive sun exposure; severe sunburns as a child; the use of tanning beds; history of radiation or ultraviolet treatments; family history; individuals with immune suppression from disease or medical treatment (such as organ transplants); exposure to coal, tar, creosote, arsenic compounds, or radium; or prior history of skin cancer.

What are the symptoms?

In general, the size, shape, color, or diameter of an existing skin lesion or the appearance of a new one can cause suspicion of possible skin cancer. Basal cell skin cancer may be flat, firm, and pale or a small raised pink or red lesion. It may also be a translucent shiny area that bleeds easily or a sore that won't heal. The nose is the most frequent site. Squamous cell skin cancer usually is a lump with a rough surface or a flat reddish patch that grows slowly. They can also present as a sore that won't heal.

How is skin cancer treated?

Treatment depends on many factors including the location, size, possible extension into nearby areas and factors specific to the individual such as age, general condition, and any prior cancer treatments. Treatments can range from simple surgical removal of the lesion to needing radiation and chemotherapy depending on the severity of the cancer.

Can I prevent skin cancer?

Individuals should avoid overexposure to ultraviolet rays by limiting sun exposure during the midday hours; using protective sunscreen; protecting the skin by using a hat to shade the face, neck and ears; wearing sunglasses; and avoiding tanning beds.

How often should I be checked for skin cancer?

Skin screening should be done to identify lesions early, including monthly self-examination and any suspicious areas should be examined by a physician. High risk individuals should have a yearly skin examination by a dermatologist.

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