Skin cancer can take a number of forms, but the most common are malignant melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
Treatment of skin cancer can be very different depending on the type of skin cancer and whether the disease is localized only exists in the skin or other body parts. However, the Royal Marsden has experts in both hospitals that can handle patients with all types of skin cancer at any stage of the disease.
There are three main types of skin cancer:
Basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma accounts for approximately 80 percent of all skin cancers. Such highly treatable cancer starts in the basal cell layer of the epidermis (upper layer of the skin) and grows very slowly. Basal cell carcinoma usually appears as a small shiny bump or nodule on the skin – especially the sun-exposed areas such as the head, neck, arms, hands and face. It commonly occurs in people with light eyes, hair and complexion.
Squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma, even more aggressive than basal cell carcinoma is highly treatable. It accounts for about 20 percent of all skin cancers. Squamous cell carcinoma may appear as nodules or red, scaly patches on the skin, and can be found on sun-exposed areas like the face, ears, lips and mouth. However, if untreated, squamous cell carcinoma can spread to other parts of the body. This type of skin cancer is usually found in people with fair skin.
Malignant melanoma represents a small percentage of skin cancers, but is most skin cancer deaths. Malignant Melanoma begins in the melanocytes – cells that produce pigment in the skin. Malignant melanomas sometimes begin as an abnormal mole that then turns cancerous. This cancer can spread rapidly. Malignant melanoma most often affects fair-skinned men and women, but people with all skin types can be affected.
Soft tissue sarcoma
Sarcomas are rare tumors that can occur anywhere on the body. Soft tissue sarcomas arise in tissues such as fat, muscles, nerves, tendons and blood and lymph vessels – the soft tissues that connect, support and surround other body parts.
There are approximately 50 different types of soft tissue sarcomas, each with a different behavior management, and outcome. Patients are best treated in a specialized hospital by a team of experts with a specific interest and extensive experience in handling all types of soft tissue sarcomas.
Types of Skin Surgery
Surgery is a common treatment for skin cancer. It is used in most of the cases treated. Some types of skin cancer tumors can be removed very easily and require minimal surgery, while others may require a more extensive surgical procedure. Surgery may include the following:
Using liquid nitrogen cryosurgery uses an instrument that sprays the liquid on the skin, which freezes and destroys tissue.
Curettage and electrodesiccation
This common type of surgery involves scraping the skin tissue with a curette (a sharp surgical instrument), followed by cauterizing the wound with an electrosurgical unit.
A scalpel (sharp surgical instrument) can be used to remove and eliminate growth. The wound is usually stitched or held closed with skin clips.
Mohs microscopically controlled surgery
This surgery removes a lesion, layer by layer. Each piece of tissue removed is examined under a microscope. Tissue is removed progressively until no tumor cells are seen. The aim of this type of surgery is to remove all malignant cells and normal tissue as little as possible. Often used with recurrent tumors.
Skin Cancer Prevention
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends the following measures to help reduce your risk of skin cancer:
Wear protective clothing, including a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, where possible.
Seek shade when appropriate, especially when the sun’s rays are strongest, 10 am-4 pm
Regularly use a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or higher on all exposed skin, even on cloudy days. Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours and after swimming or sweating.
Protect children from the sun by using shade, protective clothing and applying sunscreen.
Use extra caution near water, snow and sand, which can reflect the sun’s rays and increase the chance of sunburn.
Avoid tanning beds. The UV (ultraviolet) radiation from tanning beds can cause skin cancer and wrinkles.
Check your birthday suit on your birthday. Look at your skin carefully and if you see anything changing, growing, or bleeding on your skin, see your doctor.
Get vitamin D safely through a healthy diet (which may include vitamin supplements.) Do not seek the sun.