You didn't pick this fight. But you can choose who fights with you. We have helped more than 10,000 people beat skin cancer in the last 30 years. And we're here for you.
Conditions and Causes
The most important things to know about skin cancer are:
It is linked to ultraviolet light exposure: the sun, sun lamps, tanning beds
If treated early, it is easier to treat and easier to beat
It's hard for you to detect a skin cancer by sight. Skin cancers have different characteristics. Even the same type of cancer can look different from person to person. The earliest sign of skin cancer is a spot or growth on your skin that:
Changes shape, texture, or color
Bleeds or itches
If you have any spots or growths that display these characteristics for two weeks, please see us immediately.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. When detected early and treated properly, the cure rate is close to 100 percent. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) usually appears in areas that get a lot of sun exposure: the face, scalp, neck, hands, and arms. On occasion, it may appear on an area typically protected from the sun, such as the genitals. Although it grows slowly and rarely spreads to vital organs, basal cell carcinoma can cause significant disfigurement, and some forms can be deadly if left untreated.
Basal cell carcinoma can be caused by periods of intense sun exposure as well as cumulative sun exposure. Fair skin and skin damaged by burns, serious wounds, inflammatory skin conditions, and exposure to radiation and harmful chemicals also make you vulnerable.
Signs of a basal cell carcinoma are:
A red area of dry skin that does not heal
A mole-like, pearly bump that is white, pink, red, tan, brown, or black
A persistent pimple
A sore that doesn't heal
A waxy white, yellow, or skin-colored scar with irregular borders
Shiny pink or red growths that look like sores and bleed easily, often with scaly spots
A hard, flat or sunken growth, usually white or yellow
Squamous cell carcinoma is a very common type of skin cancer. Treatment is almost 100 percent effective,
if the cancer is detected and treated early. If left untreated, however, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) can grow deeply, spread to other parts of the body, and become life threatening.
Squamous cell carcinoma is usually caused by tanning or sun exposure over a long period of time, but tobacco use, a burn, or exposure to radiation or strong chemicals can be responsible as well. Squamous cell carcinoma typically shows up on areas that get the most sun exposure — the ears, face, scalp, neck, or arms — but it can appear elsewhere, even inside the mouth or on the genitals.
Signs of a squamous cell carcinoma are:
A thick, rough, scaly patch or wart-like bump that may crust or bleed
A persistent open sore that itches and bleeds
A scaly patch on the lip
Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. It is often treated successfully in the early stages, but when untreated, melanoma can spread to vital organs and be fatal.
Melanoma is often triggered by intense, intermittent exposure to the sun. Those most at risk are:
Fair-skinned people with light-colored hair and eyes
People who have had sunburns or who burn easily
People who have a personal or family history of skin cancer
People who have numerous moles or who have atypical moles (dysplastic nevi) — moles that are large, unusually colored, and irregularly shaped
Melanoma may appear in an existing mole or look like a new mole. Signs of melanoma are:
A mole that grows rapidly, changes shape, or changes color
A mole that looks scaly, oozes, or bleeds
A new spot that looks like a mole but grows quickly
A spot of skin that is painful, itchy, or bleeding
A brown or black streak underneath a fingernail or toenail
A bruise on the foot that does not heal
We start by taking tissue samples (biopsies) of suspicious patches or growths and testing them in our in-house lab. If cancer is confirmed we will explain all of your options in depth and help you decide on the best treatment plan.
These are surgical options for the three most common types of skin cancer:
Mohs micrographic surgery With more than 9,000 Mohs surgeries performed in the past 30 years, Dr. Ramsdell is a very well-regarded expert in this delicate procedure. It involves removing thin layers of tissue — and testing each layer for cancer — until only healthy tissue remains. When your cancer is in a very sensitive area, such as the genitals, or in a highly visible area, such as the face, this is the preferred treatment. Mohs surgery is also recommended for cancers that recur after a previous cancer treatment.
Surgical excision Using a scalpel, the doctor cuts out the growth and, as a safety measure, some surrounding tissue, then closes the incision with sutures. We will analyze the tissue in our in-house lab to make sure all cancerous cells have been removed.
These are treatment options for basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas:
Curettage and electrosurgery The doctor scrapes away cancer cells using a scoop-shaped surgical instrument called a curette. The site is then burned with electric current to destroy any remaining cells. The procedure is repeated several times to ensure that all cancer cells are eliminated.
If you have basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma and cannot undergo surgery, these procedures may be part of your treatment:
Photodynamic Therapy With Photodynamic Therapy we apply a light-sensitizing substance to your cancerous tissue, then use an intense light to destroy the damaged cells. The surrounding healthy tissue is largely undisturbed.
Laser treatment An extremely precise laser vaporizes cancerous cells and the damaged skin surrounding them.
Topical medications 5-FU, a chemotherapy medicine, can be applied directly to the skin to destroy cancerous cells when the cancer is only superficial. Another topical medication, imiquimod, stimulates your own immune system to reject the cancerous cells.
Following treatment you should examine your skin thoroughly at least once a month and schedule regular follow-up visits for a professional examination. Get a self-exam worksheet.
Once you have had skin cancer, you are always at risk for a recurrence. Responsible sun protection and early detection techniques should be a regular part of your daily life.
Annual cancer screening Have us perform a professional, full-body skin cancer screening at least once a year. Make your appointment now.
Monthly self-exams Examine your skin at least once a month. If you see a new, rapidly growing spot or a growth that is changing rapidly, itching, or bleeding for two weeks, call us immediately. Get a self-exam worksheet.
Sun safety Protect your skin from the sun:
Stay out of the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
Apply broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or heavy sweating.
Do not burn, tan, or use tanning booths.
Keep newborns out of the sun. Use sunscreen on babies over the age of six months.
For More Information
American Academy of Dermatology: Skin Cancer
American Academy of Dermatology: Skin Cancer Detection
American Academy of Dermatology: Skin Cancer Prevention
Skin Cancer Foundation