Skin cancer develops when there is a mutation in skin cell DNA. These mutations cause cells in the skin to grow in an abnormal way, and the result is a mass of cancerous cells known as a tumor. Skin cancer typically begins in the top layer of the skin known as the epidermis. This thin layer of skin is made up of cells that the body sheds on a continuous basis. There are three primary types of epidermis cells known as melanocytes, basal cells and squamous cells. The type of skin cells that the cancer affects will play a role in the available treatment options as well as the overall prognosis.
Cellulitis and skin abscess are two common complications of skin cancer, though one of the most serious complications is that the cancer can spread to other organs. When a patient does not seek treatment for skin cancer, the result is often that the cancer spreads into other organs becoming a much more serious and life-threatening situation. As the cancer becomes more serious, so do the required treatments, and there are many more complications that come from serious skin cancer treatments such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
Skin cancer primarily develops on area of skin exposed to the sun including the face, scalp, ears, lips, chest, neck, hands and arms. However, it can form on other areas too including the palms of the hands, beneath finger and toe nails and even in the genital area. Basal cell carcinoma typically appears as a waxy or pearly bump or a scar-like legion, which is flat and brown or flesh colored. Squamous cell carcinoma typically appears as a firm and red nodule or a flat, crusted or scaly lesion. Melanoma typically appears as a mole that changes in its appearance over time, a small lesion with irregular borders and multiple tones or colors or a large brownish spot with speckles of darker colors.
A visit to a physician will begin with a thorough examination of the skin. A basic examination of any questionable spot will help the physician determine if further study is required. The physician may then remove a sample of the suspicious skin in order to test it in a laboratory, a process which is known as skin biopsy. After determining whether or not skin cancer is present, the next step is to type and stage the cancer. These processes will help the physician determine what type of treatment will best meet the needs of the patient by delivering the most effective solution to cancer removal.
The right treatment for skin cancer will depend entirely on the type and stage of the cancer. Physicians can remove some skin cancers using biopsy, while physicians may need to exercise other treatment options for larger or more advanced forms of cancer. These include: freezing, laser therapy, excisional surgery, Mohs surgery, curettage and electrodesiccation, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, PDT or photodynamic therapy and biological therapy.