Recognizing Skin Cancer

Recognizing Skin Cancer

Recognizing Skin Cancer

Skin cancer comes in all shades, sizes and shapes. Knowing how to recognize suspicious areas of skin early is crucial for successful treatment. Although there are many different kinds of skin cancers, only four common types will be discussed here. These types are Squamous Cell Carcinoma, Kaposi’s Sarcoma, Melanoma and Basal Cell Carcinoma.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a cancer in the squamous cell, which are the main cells that make up the epidermis of the skin. SCC is one of the main forms of skin cancer, however, squamous cells are found in other parts of the body as well, including the lungs, esophagus, bladder and other areas. Although this cancer may share the same name with cells in different locations of the body, symptoms and treatment vary greatly depending on the location of SCC.

Typically SCC will occur in an individual’s 50s but more commonly it will manifest in the 70s. This skin cancer is twice as common in men as women. Individuals with fair skin, light hair, and light colored eyes are at higher risk than those with darker skin. Excessive exposure to sunlight without protection increases the risk of developing SCC.

SCC of the skin typically begins as a small nodule that enlarges over time and becomes necrotic as it turns into an ulcer.

Other signs of SCC include:

  • Intermittent bleeding from the area
  • Ulcer or reddish skin build up
  • Hard plaque or papule
  • Slow growing irregular skin tissue
  • Appearing in areas of frequent sun exposure
  • Area may seem asymptomatic

Treatment for SCC can vary, although most tumors are removed with surgery. Surgical excision of the tissue including a margin of healthy tissue around the area is a common treatment method. Mohs surgery, also known as chemosurgery, is considered the ideal treatment for SCC. During each tissue removal the tissue is examined for cancerous cells, after the examination the surgeon decides if more tissue needs to be removed. This method allows for minimal healthy tissue removal while still excising all cancerous tissue.

Kaposi’s Sarcoma

Kaposis sarcoma 01” by M. Sand, D. Sand, C. Thrandorf, V. Paech, P. Altmeyer, F. G. Bechara – M. Sand, D. Sand, C. Thrandorf, V. Paech, P. Altmeyer, F. G. Bechara: Cutaneous lesions of the nose. In: Head & face medicine Band 6, 2010, S. 7, ISSN 1746-160X. doi:10.1186/1746-160X-6-7. PMID 20525327. (Review). Open Access. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.

Kaposi’s Sarcoma or KS is a cancer caused by an infection of human herpesvirus 8. KS can manifest with lesions and may or may not be involved internally.

There are four subtypes of KS:

  • Classic KS
  • African endemic KS
  • KS in iatrongenically immunosuppressed patients
  • AIDS-related KS

The lesions associated with KS have several different morphologies:

  • Macular
  • Patch
  • Plaque
  • Nodular
  • Exophytic

Lesion can appear solitary, localized or distributed. Depending on the subtype of KS lesions can appear in different areas. Classic KS tends to affect the lower extremities, African endemic KS and AIDS-related KS tend to be more aggressive and AIDS-related KS tends to affect the upper body, face and mouth. KS is typically found on the skin but can spread throughout the body, especially to the mouth.

KS commonly affects the following areas:

  • Lower limbs
  • Back
  • Face
  • Mouth
  • Genitalia

The lesions associated with KS can be rather disfiguring. The cancer can manifest as red, purple, brown, or black blotches or nodules that are typically raised.

There is no cure for KS, however it can often be treatable for a number of years. In cases of KS in relation to immunodeficiency or immunosuppression, treating the immune system issue can help to slow or stop the spread of KS. Cryosurgery can be used on individuals with only a few isolated lesions, however; in general surgery is not recommended for KS.


Melanoma, otherwise known as malignant melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. In 2012 of the 232,000 reported case of melanoma 55,000 resulted in death. Melanoma develops in pigment-containing cells. About 25% of melanomas develop from moles.

Inspecting moles regularly can help detect cancerous lesions early and increase chances of survival. There is a helpful mnemonic to remember when considering moles.

Look for the “ABCDE”s of a mole:

  • Asymmetry. If you were to draw a line down the middle of the mole would the two sides match?
  • Borders. Are the edges of the mole irregular?
  • Color. Does the mole have a variety of colors such as brown, tan, black or red?
  • Diameter. Is it larger than the size of a pencil eraser?
  • Evolving. Has the mole been changing?

If a mole exhibits any of these features, a professional should examine it more closely.

Exposure to ultraviolet light is the leading cause of melanoma. Using sun protection and limiting exposure to harsh sunlight may help reduce the risk of melanoma. Men are more likely to develop melanoma than women. Once diagnosed through a skin biopsy, if melanoma is found, treatment is typically removal through surgery. Surrounding lymph nodes may be tested for cancer.

If the melanoma has spread treatments may include:

  • Immunotherapy
  • Biologic therapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma2” by James Heilman, MDOwn work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons.

The most common form of cancer in the United States is basal cell carcinoma or basal cell cancer (BCC). Although common, BCC skin cancer rarely metastasizes or kills. BCC is still considered malignant however because it can cause major damage and deformity by attacking surrounding tissues.

Two thirds of BCC cases occur in sun-exposed areas while the other one third occur in areas on the body that are not exposed to sunlight, illustrating that there is a large genetic susceptibility factor to consider for BCC. Approximately 3 out of 10 Caucasians will develop BCC during their lifetime. Most cases of BCC are located on the head and neck. BCC usually manifest with a shiny, pearly skin nodule. Other manifestations include red patches, similar to that of eczema, skin thickening or scar tissue. Diagnosis of BCC is done by a skin biopsy.

Basal cell carcinoma can be treated in a number of ways:

  • Standard surgical excision
  • Mohs surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Radiation
  • Photodynamic therapy
  • Cryosurgery
  • Electrodesiccation and curettage
  • Vismodegib

The majority of BCC cases can be successfully treated before serious complications or lasting damage occurs. Early and appropriate treatment help to increase successful cure rates.

High Valley Dermatology: Your Skin Cancer Specialist of Southeast Idaho

We understand that “cancer” is a scary word, and here at High Valley we want our patients to know that we are dedicated to providing the most professional, efficient and effect care available. Our physicians and staff are kind and caring and most importantly have the highest training possible for the treatment of skin cancer is the Southeast Idaho area. Our providers each have an additional year of fellowship in Mohs Micrographic and Reconstructive Surgery to help offer or patients the least amount of skin defect paired with the highest cure rate for some kinds of skin cancers.

At High Valley we offer skin cancer screening to help patients detect cancer early. We will work quickly to diagnose and provide treatment for any problems we may find. Cancer is scary enough; you don’t have to face it alone. Please feel free to contact us at anytime with your questions or concerns.

Call us at 208-522-(SKIN)7546