Skin cancer

General Information.  Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer that can occur in humans. Every year, there are more than 1 million new cases of skin cancer in the United States. Almost one in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer in his/her lifetime. The number of new cases is steadily rising, especially among young adults. In addition, people who have had skin cancer in the past are at higher risk of developing new skin cancer in the near future.

There are many types of skin cancer; some of which can be quite disfiguring or even deadly as they invade locally and/or spread to other organs. The majority of skin cancer is generally treatable if detected early and managed appropriately. Therefore, proactive prevention, early detection, and prompt treatment are crucial. Dr. Liana Abramova at Dermatology of Virginia in Fairfax is an experienced dermatologist who can help diagnose and treat various types of skin cancer and create a prevention plan that helps keep your skin healthy.

What is skin cancer? Cancer is a very scary word that is used to describe many different tumors and growths. These tumors/growths can also have many different prognoses. Fortunately, the majority of skin cancer is generally treatable if detected early. A cancer is a disease in which cells are multiplying faster than they normally should. Most cells in a human body are programmed by their genetic codes (DNA) to divide and reproduce in an orderly manner to allow the body to grow, replenish worn-out tissue, and repair wounds. When the DNAs of these cells are damaged and mutated in some way (for instance, by sunrays or ultraviolet radiation in the case of skin cancer), these cells begin to uncontrollably divide, replicate, overwhelm the body’s repair mechanism, and become a cancer. If left untreated, skin cancer will grow larger and deeper, destroy nearby structures, and sometimes spread to other organs. The effects of untreated skin cancer can be devastating.

How many types of skin cancer are there? There are many types of skin cancer. Three main types of skin cancer include basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma which derive their names from the names of the cell types that become cancerous, such as basal cells, squamous cells, and melanocytes. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer, accounting for roughly 75%. Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form, accounting for about 16%. Melanoma, though rare, is a more serious form of skin cancer.

What causes skin cancer? As mentioned previously, combination of chronic cumulative exposure and intermittent but intense exposure to UV lights (in natural sunrays or tanning beds) can cause significant alteration to the underlying DNA of the skin cells and turn normal basal or squamous cells into cancerous cells. If one undergoes radiation therapy for some unrelated cancer treatment or for other conditions, one is at higher risk for developing skin cancer in the radiation field. People with traumatic scars, certain chemical exposure, some inherited cancer-prone syndromes, and immunosuppressive condition or treatment are more predisposed to develop skin cancer.

Why do I need skin cancer screening? Skin cancer is a preventable and treatable form of cancer, if prevented effectively or detected early. It sometimes takes years to develop a skin cancer after the initial significant sun exposure. For example, most people who had excessive sun burns during their childhood, teenage years or early adulthood were found to develop skin cancer in their thirties and forties. If you think that you have many of risk factors for developing skin cancer mentioned above, you may benefit from an annual skin cancer screening with Dr. Liana Abramova. She can help assess risks, identify problem areas, biopsy when needed and treat.