Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. More than 500,000 new cases are reported each year, and the incidence is rising faster than any other type of cancer. When a patient is concerned about a skin lesion, dermatologists often perform the initial evaluation. A plastic surgeon is then consulted if the removal of the lesion will leave a large, noticeable defect on the skin.
In the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, surgeons have expertise regarding all types of reconstruction necessary after skin cancer removal. The division also can send the removed skin to the pathology department while the patient is still in surgery to assess whether all of the cancer has been removed.
Other possible treatments for skin cancer include cryosurgery (freezing the cancer cells), radiation therapy (using x-rays), topical chemotherapy (anti-cancer drugs applied to the skin), and Mohs surgery, a special procedure at the University of Miami/Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center (located on the medical school campus) where the cancer is shaved off one layer at a time. Each layer is examined under a microscope until no cancer is present.
Types of skin cancer are:
Basal Cell Carcinoma
This is the least dangerous type of skin cancer because it tends to grow slowly and rarely spreads beyond its original site. However, if left untreated, it can grow deep beneath the skin and into the underlying tissue and bone, causing serious damage, particularly if it is located near the eye. Basal cell carcinoma may appear in many forms, often beginning as a small, pearly nodule.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
This is the next most common type of skin cancer and frequently appears on the lips, face or ears. It sometimes spreads to distant sites, including lymph nodes and internal organs, and can become life threatening if not treated. Squamous cell carcinoma may begin as a red, scaly patch, a group of crusted nodules, or a sore that doesn’t heal.
This is the least common type of skin cancer, but the most dangerous and life threatening. If discovered early enough, it can be completely cured. If not treated quickly, however, it may spread throughout the body and is often deadly. Malignant melanoma is usually signaled by a change in the size, shape or color of an existing mole, or as a new growth on normal skin.
Two additional types of skin growth are:
- Moles: Moles are clusters of heavily pigmented skin cells, either flat or raised above the skin surface. While most pose no danger, some may develop into malignant melanoma.
- Solar or Actinic Keratoses: These are rough, red or brown, and scaly patches on the skin. They are usually found on areas exposed to the sun, and sometimes develop into squamous cell cancer.