We recommend that all patients get an Annual Skin Check Exam to identify any problems early and to establish a baseline on the health of each patient’s skin, similar to a regular dental checkup. The dermatologist will examine your skin to screen for any skin cancers, and will also address any of your areas of concern. One million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year, and one person dies of melanoma every hour in the United States, but skin cancer is usually highly treatable when identified early.
These exams are the best way to be proactive in the care of the skin for you and your family. We even recommend this for patients that are coming in strictly for cosmetic procedures. For patients that have a history of skin cancer, your dermatologist may recommend examination at three or six-month intervals to promptly identify any recurrence.
Full-body skin exams are an important tool in screening patients for benign or cancerous lesions that they may not have been able to see or recognize on their own. From head to toe and back to front, we inspect the skin for any suspicious growths. This quick and painless preventive measure is an invaluable tool in the early detection of skin cancer as well as many other dermatological conditions.
Actinic keratoses (AKs) are lesions on the surface layer of the skin (epidermis) caused by chronic exposure to sunlight, particularly ultraviolet light. AKs occur when the cells that comprise 90 percent of the epidermis, the keratinocytes, change their size, shape and/or organization in a process called cutaneous dysplasia. This alters the texture of the skin surface and may extend deeper, into the dermis. AKs are only one of many kinds of keratinocyte lesions, which can be caused by factors other than sunlight (such as chemical carcinogens, x-rays, heat, papillomavirus infection and scarring).
Dermoscopy is a method of examining the skin that is growing in importance in the field of dermatology due to advances in technology. Using a dermatoscope, a lighted, hand-held microscope for analyzing the surface of the skin, dermoscopy can reveal information about the skin that is not visible to the naked eye. This provides a tremendous advantage in increasing diagnostic accuracy. It is mainly used to help detect cancerous changes in their earliest stages but is also very effective at allowing physicians to evaluate a wide variety of other skin conditions.
Types of Skin Cancer
Basal Cell Carcinoma – Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer. It occurs in the bottom layer of cells in the epidermis. Luckily, this type of skin cancer rarely spreads beyond the skin and can usually be completely removed if caught early enough.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma – Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), like BCC, also arises from skin cells called keratinocytes. This type of cancer is almost always caused by over-exposure to the sun, although it can also occur on areas of the body that have been burned, repeatedly exposed to x-rays or to harsh chemicals. SCCs carry an intermediate risk and may spread to lymph nodes and other organs if left untreated.
Melanoma – Melanoma occurs in melanocytes, which are cells that provide color to our skin. This type of cancer is rare but very dangerous because it carries the highest risk of spread to lymph nodes and other organs. This means early detection is important – when the cancer is small and confined to the skin it is almost always completely curable through surgical removal.
A biopsy is a diagnostic test that involves removing a tissue sample and examining it under a microscope. This test is used to identify abnormal cells and an associated condition such as skin cancer. A very small sample is needed to establish the diagnosis. These are called shave or punch biopsies and are done with local anesthesia so there is no patient discomfort. Most biopsies heal very quickly and need minimal care. The care of the biopsy site involves the application of an ointment and band-aid until it heals.
» Learn more about receiving your biopsy results.
Skin Cancer Treatment Options
Treatment for skin cancer depends on the type, size, and location of the tumor. Most options remove the entire growth and are usually effective. Removal procedures are usually simple and require only a local anesthetic in an outpatient setting. Your dermatologist will advise you on the optimal treatment plan for your individual situation as some cancers might respond better to some treatment options over others. Some of the treatment options for skin cancer include:
- Photodynamic Therapy
- Curettage and Desiccation
- Mohs Surgery
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a minimally invasive procedure used to treat skin cancer and other conditions such as acne, rosacea and actinic keratosis. PDT uses a topical photosensitizer called Levulan along with a light energy source to destroy abnormal skin cells. The Levulan is applied to the skin and incubated for a prescribed amount of time before it is exposed to light energy to activate the medication and destroy the targeted cells.
This procedure can be combined with other treatments, such as intense pulsed light, in order to maximize results and leave skin as healthy and beautiful as possible. At The Dermatology Center at Ladera, we offer Omnilux blue and red light photodynamic therapies.