It is crucial for the patient to regularly see the same doctor or nurse practitioner. The medical professional will need to track the marks on the patient’s skin, over time, to adequately establish if a mole or freckle is abnormal. Regardless of how long a dermatologist has been caring for a patient, any atypical blemish should be biopsied.
The ABC’s of Skin Cancer
Certain signs can warn a medical professional that a spot on the patient’s skin may actually be cancer. These signs are typically referred to as “the ABC’s of skin cancer,” and they include:
- Asymmetric – An oddly shaped mole. If a line is drawn through it, the sides do not match.
- Border – The edges of the mole may be uneven, scalloped, or notched.
- Color – Any variation in the color of a mole. A number of different brown, tan, or black shades may appear. Melanoma can also be red, blue, or other peculiar colors.
- Diameter – A spot that is larger than the eraser of pencil (1/4 of an inch or 6mm) is suspicious. Sometimes they can be smaller if detected very early.
- Evolving – Any change in shape, color, size, elevation, or other characteristic of the mole. Bleeding, itching, or crusting may also indicate skin cancer. This is why it is important for the dermatologist to track the spots on a patient’s skin.
How a Biopsy is Performed
The dermatologist should conduct a biopsy of any abnormal skin cells. Using a needle or scalpel, the medical specialist will remove a very small piece of the patient’s skin. The sample will be examined in a lab, so it may take more than a week for the patient to receive definitive results. The doctor may fail to biopsy a suspicious location or the test results may not be accurately evaluated. Failure to properly diagnose skin cancer can have devastating effects on the patient’s health.
Stages of Skin Cancer
When it is caught early, skin cancer is relatively easy to cure. With a simple outpatient surgery, the cancerous skin cells can be sliced or burned off. Dermatologists have different medical procedures that they prefer for removing skin cancer, and each procedure will leave a different type of scar. Should the precancerous cells go unnoticed, they may develop into more severe cases of skin cancer. Two of the most basic skin cancer types include:
Keratinocyte cancer, which is the most common non-melanoma skin cancer. When viewed under a microscope, these cancerous cells share many features of the keratinocyte cells found in healthy skin.
- Basal cell carcinoma occurs in approximately 8 out of 10 cases of skin cancer. The cancerous cells usually develop on sun-exposed areas, such as the head or neck. They are slow-growing, but may spread into nearby areas if left untreated.
- Squamous cell carcinoma occurs in about 2 out of 10 skin cancer cases. They also typically appear in areas exposed to the sun, such as the face, ears neck, lips, and backs of the hands. On rare occasions, squamous cell carcinoma may develop within scars or already existing ulcers. These cancer cells are more aggressive than basal cells and are more likely to invade other areas of the body.
Melanoma cancer is the deadliest form of skin cancer. It accounts for less than 5% of total cases, yet it causes most skin cancer-related deaths. It is an aggressive type, growing quickly and spreading to nearby lymph nodes. Pieces of the melanoma can metastasize, or break off into the bloodstream. This stage of melanoma skin cancer is life-threatening and very difficult to treat.
Studies from the American Cancer Society show:
- 76,250 new melanomas are diagnosed each year
- 6,060 men die from melanoma each year
- 3,120 women die each year from melanoma
- Increasing incidence rates for melanoma during the last 30 years