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. Patients who notice an unusual growth should consult a plastic surgeon or a dermatologist. Both are skilled at diagnosing and treating skin cancer and other skin growths. The trained plastic surgeon at PeaceHealth Medical Group in the Portland metro area can surgically remove the growth in a manner that maintains function and offers the most pleasing final appearance, a consideration that may be especially important if the cancer is in a highly visible area. If a treatment other than surgical excision is called for, the plastic surgeon can refer the patient to an appropriate specialist.
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If the cancer is small, the procedure can be done quickly and easily, in an outpatient facility or in the PeaceHealth Medical Group office, using local anesthesia. The procedure may be a simple excision, which usually leaves a thin, barely visible scar. Or curettage and desiccation may be performed. In this procedure the cancer is scraped out with an electric current to control bleeding and kill any remaining cancer cells. This leaves a slightly larger, white scar. In either case, the risks of the surgery are low. If the cancer is large, however, or if it has spread to the lymph glands or elsewhere in the body, major surgery may be required. Other possible treatments for skin cancer include cryosurgery (freezing the cancer cells), radiation therapy (using x-rays), topical chemotherapy (anti-cancer drugs applied to the skin), and Mohs surgery (a special procedure in which the cancer is shaved off one layer at a time). Mohs surgery is performed only by specially trained physicians and often requires a reconstructive procedure as follow-up.
The different techniques used in treating skin cancers can be life saving, but they may leave a patient with less than pleasing cosmetic or functional results. Depending on the location and severity of the cancer, the consequences may range from a small but unsightly scar to permanent changes in facial structures such as the nose, ear, or lip. In such cases, no matter who performs the initial treatment, a plastic surgeon can be an important part of the treatment team. Reconstructive techniques- ranging from a simple scar revision to a complex transfer of tissue flaps from elsewhere on the body-can often repair damaged tissue, rebuild body parts, and restore most patients to acceptable appearance and function. After being treated for skin cancer, patients should performs self-examinations and schedule regular follow-up visits to make sure the cancer hasn't recurred.
Plan Your Procedure
- Recovery Time
- 1-2 Weeks
- Average Procedure Time
- 1 Hour
- Post-op Follow-up
- Procedure Recovery Location
Skin Cancer Removal FAQs@headingTag>
Types of Skin Cancer?@headingTag>
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.
Recognizing Skin Cancer?@headingTag>
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 out.
Basal cell carcinoma may come in many forms. It often begins as a small, pearly nodule.
Squamous cell carcinoma may begin as a red, scaly patch, a group of crusted nodules, or a sore that doesn't heal.
Malignant melanoma is often asymmetrical, with blurred or ragged edges and mottled colors.
Who Gets Skin Cancer?@headingTag>
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 outdoors.
You live closer to the equator, at a higher altitude, or in any place that gets intense, year-round sunshine.
You received therapeutic radiation treatments for adolescent acne.
Other Skin Growths?@headingTag>
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 changes). 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.