Westlake Village dermatologist explains the causes and risk factors for skin cancer and treatment options
Skin cancer affects millions of Americans every year, making it the most common type of cancer. When caught early and treated promptly, skin cancer can be highly curable. However, when not diagnosed and treated early, it can lead to disfigurement and potentially death. The number of skin cancer cases each year rises more than combined cases of breast, lung, prostate and colon cancer. At Daphne J. Panagotacos, M.D. in Westlake Village, we educate our patients on the importance of early detection when it comes to skin cancer. We encourage regular skin checks at home as well as full dermatological skin checks, so patients can seek evaluation for any abnormalities when they first occur. In the following article, we will examine some causes and risk factors for the different types of skin cancer along with treatment options.
What causes skin cancer?
Simply put, skin cancer occurs when there is an uninhibited growth of abnormal skin cells. The biggest cause is DNA damage to the skin because of UV exposure either from the sun or through tanning beds.
What are the risk factors for skin cancer?
While anyone can be diagnosed with skin cancer, it occurs more often in individuals with light or fair skin. Some of the major risk factors for skin care are:
- Too much sun exposure
- Tanning beds
- Living in a place where the sun is intense
Prolonged UV exposure of any kind can increase your risk for skin cancer, even if that exposure occurred many years ago.
Characteristics that increase a person’s risk for skin cancer
- Skin Type – An individual’s skin type can increase their risk of skin cancer, specifically:
- Pale skin, especially those with red or blonde hair and blue or green eyes.
- A history of intense, blistering sunburns
- If your skin burns but does not tan
- Moles – An individual’s history of moles may increase risk, specifically:
- 50+ moles
- Atypical nevi or dysplastic nevi moles
- Genetics – Having people in your family with skin cancer can increase risk.
- Medical History – The following medical conditions can increase an individual’s risk of skin cancer.
- A history of actinic keratosis (pre-cancerous skin lesions)
- A previous skin cancer diagnosis
- Bad sunburns that resulted in blistering skin
- Weakened immune system such as lymphoma or HIV.
- Organ transplant
- Lifestyle/Environmental factors – The following lifestyle choices or environmental exposures can increase a person’s risk of skin cancer.
- Tobacco use/smoking
- Exposure to arsenic, coal, or industrial tar
What are the symptoms of skin cancer?
The biggest indicator of skin cancer is a change or growth on the skin. The following are symptoms of the different types of skin cancer.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
- Where it’s found: Basal cell cancers typically appear on parts of the skin that are the most exposed to sunlight, such as the head, face, neck, chest, arms, or hands.
- Most common symptoms
- Reddish, dry patches that don’t heal
- Recurrent sores
- Brown, red, or pink circular lump
- Waxy scars
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
- Where it’s found: In addition to the parts of the body that are exposed to the sun, squamous cell carcinomas can also appear inside the mouth, on the lip, or in the genital region.
- Most common symptoms
- Scaly, crusty patches of skin
- Open sores that heal and then return
- Scaly, thick spot on the lip
- Where it’s found: Melanoma cancer typically presents as a new mole or change in an existing mole.
- Most common symptoms – It’s important to monitor any moles on your body and keep an eye on the following symptoms.
- Changes in shape or color
- Oozing or bleeding
- A new, quick growing spot
- Itchy, bleeding patches
- Brown or black spots underneath a toenail or fingernail
What are treatment options?
Treatment of skin cancer depends on where it is located, the stage of the cancer, how aggressive it is, and the patient’s overall health. The most common forms of treatment are:
- Surgical treatment – Standard excision, Mohs, or Curettage and electrodessication.
- Photodynamic therapy
To learn more about the causes and risk factors for skin cancer or to schedule a skin cancer examination, please call us today at 805-379-DERM.