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What is Skin Cancer?

Posted on: April 30th, 2016 by California Skin Institute

Over the years, California Skin Institute providers have helped tens of thousands of patients treat skin cancer.* We approach every skin cancer case with the utmost of care, and our team of expert doctors and surgeons goes to great lengths to provide customized skin cancer treatments that are focused on the unique aspects of each patient’s situation.*

However, we are also cognizant of the fact that skin cancer rates could be much lower. If our society just placed a greater focus on preventing this disease, tens of thousands of individuals could be spared the stress and frustration of a skin cancer diagnosis (even after a successful treatment the risk of recurrence remains for the rest of your life), and thousands of lives could be saved.

To help you better understand this disease, we’ve put together this educational article with some very helpful information.

But we do want to ask you just one thing: don’t just read this article to become better educated on the topic, but actually use the information to change your lifestyle habits and the habits of your loved ones. Starting today, you can take real, meaningful steps to protect yourself, your family, and your friends against skin cancer.*

What is Skin Cancer?

At the very core, skin cancer is an uncontrolled growth of skin cells. This occurs when the cellular DNA becomes damaged by UV radiation, or by some other means. Normally, such damage should cause the cells to cease division and to self destruct. However, this mechanism is not perfect, and the damaged cell can sometimes start growing uncontrollably. Some of the most common skin cancers include:

  • Basal Cell Carcinoma:  This one of the most common forms of human skin cancer (approximately 2 million cases are diagnosed annually in the U.S.) skin cancer originates in the bottom layer of the epidermis. Basal cell carcinoma is rarely deadly because it does not tend to metastasize to other parts of the body. However, it has been known to lead to fatalities in some cases, and can be disfiguring in non-fatal cases.
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma:  This type of skin cancer occurs when skin cells at the uppermost layers of the epidermis are affected. Although cure rates for squamous cell carcinoma are very high, this skin cancer can become deadly if left untreated. Another serious aspect of squamous cell carcinoma is the potentially disfiguring effect it can have on the patient if the tumor is allowed to continue growing.
  • Melanoma:  The most deadly type of skin cancer is melanoma. Fortunately, cure success rates are very high with early detection. What makes melanoma deadly, however, is the likelihood of this cancer metastasizing. Once it has spread to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body, survival rates decrease dramatically.

Unfortunately, many people wait too long to see a doctor, or don’t even realize they have a cancerous growth because they don’t conduct regular skin checks, which leads to complications and higher fatality rates.*

If you have been diagnosed with skin cancer, it is vital to start treatment right away.* Whether it’s the basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, or melanoma, the cancer must be addressed quickly, and with the right treatment course, to maximize chances of survival and positive outcome.*

Skin Cancer Risk Factors

One of the biggest contributing factors to the development of skin cancer is the UV radiation from sunrays, which can damage the cellular DNA.

“You can’t have sun protection without sunscreen,” says Dr. Todd Anhalt, one of the expert dermatologists at California Skin Institute. “People often think that wearing long sleeves or hats will protect them, but it’s not very effective. A t-shirt provides protection of about SPF 7, while hats provide even less protection than you may think, because sun rays bounce off the ground and still impact the skin.”

Additionally, many individuals mistakenly believe that sunscreen is something that they need to worry about only later in life. “It’s never too early to start using sunscreen,” Dr. Anhalt continues “the sun doesn’t really care what age you are. Your skin sustains damage each time it’s exposed to UV radiation, regardless of age. Younger people mistakenly think that just because they don’t see the skin damage, then it’s not taking place, so they don’t think they need to use sunscreen, or they spend time in tanning salons, which is even worse than being in the sun. National Cancer Institute has rated the cancer-causing potential of tanning to be equal to the cancer-causing potential of cigarettes.”

Further, misunderstanding is also common about how to use sunscreen. It has to be re-applied at least every two hours in order to be effective – one application won’t be effective for the entire day.* This is because sunscreen is ‘used up’ as it neutralizes sun rays, and the ingredients eventually become ineffective.

And when it comes to so-called waterproof sunscreens, Dr. Anhalt suggests there’s an even bigger issue; “Waterproof doesn’t mean all-day protection. You have to re-apply it at least every 90 minutes if you’re going into the water.* Regardless of what the sunscreen packaging says, the sunscreen will wear out with time and the process will happen faster in water.”

It’s very hard to over-state the importance of wearing sunscreen every time you go outside and the need to reapply it regularly. If you don’t typically use sunscreen, go to the store today and buy some. Don’t wait until tomorrow, or the next day. Do it today, start using it, and make it into a habit. Once it becomes a habit, it will be an effortless process that you won’t even notice, but your chances of skin cancer and other skin damage will be significantly reduced.*

Skin Cancer Treatment Options

Though a skin cancer diagnosis can feel scary, it’s better to catch the disease early, as early treatment significantly improves chances of survival.*

At California Skin Institute, our providers offer a variety of treatment options, including Mohs micrographic surgery, and radiation therapy, among others.*

Life Saving Annual Skin Checks

Regular skin checks are vital for catching skin cancer early.* This means checking your skin at least once a month at home, and visiting a dermatologist at least once a year.* Individuals with light skin will benefit from semi-annual skin checks, as they have less melanin in their skin (more melanin means greater natural protection against UV radiation).*

What is the Next Step?

If you haven’t had a skin check in more than a year, set up an appointment with your dermatologist as soon as possible. Some patients think that their primary care physician is just as equipped to conduct a skin check but this isn’t the case. Your family doctor deals with a wide range of health issues, while a dermatologist is highly trained in identifying skin cancer and examines skin lesions multiple times per day, every day.*

If you don’t have a dermatologist yet, the expert providers at California Skin Institute will be glad to see you. Annual skin checks are often covered by your insurance company, and we accept most of the health plans in California.* Please call a California Skin Institute practice near you to see if we accept your specific health insurance plan, and to set up a skin check consultation.

(Dr. Todd Anhalt is a board certified dermatologist with over 20 years of experience helping patients detect and treat skin cancer and other skin conditions.* In addition to helping his patients, Dr. Anhalt also serves as a Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Stanford.)

*Individual results may vary and are not guaranteed.