Skin is the largest organ on the body and also the one that is exposed the most to potentially harmful UV rays from the sun. Skin cancer affects an estimated one in five people in the United States and can be malignant or benign. If you feel you have a suspicious patch of skin, seeing a specialist at Eternal Dermatology in Fulton, MD can help you put your mind at ease and start you on the path to treatment.
Skin Cancer Specialist – Columbia, MD
A skin cancer specialist is a medical dermatologist who is trained in detecting visible signs of cancer on the skin. A skin specialist can perform cancer screenings and skin checks to assess for any suspicious skin patches. Most often, skin specialists are seen to assess for cancer risks when there are lesions or moles on the skin that are associated with symptoms of cancer.
What Is a Skin Check?
A skin check is a screening for potential cancer on the skin. Skin checks can be for people who have previously been diagnosed with cancer, as well as people who have potential signs of cancer. Skin checks typically involve a specialist looking at the skin on your whole body, including the scalp and the bottom of the feet.
Precancerous lesions are one of the hallmarks of cancer on the skin. In general, most precancerous lesions are actinic keratoses (AK) that often appear to be small, dry, or scaly patches of skin. Sometimes AK lesions are red, brown, white, or even flesh-toned; AK lesions can appear flat or raised from the surrounding skin. Usually, AK lesions have a rough texture that is more easily felt than seen.
A precancerous lesion is a patch of skin that is only suspected to have abnormal growth. These lesions have an increased possibility of becoming cancerous in the future, so it’s always a good idea to get AK lesions looked at to keep an eye on any future developments.
Cancerous moles are one of the more common signs of possible cancer. A cancerous mole has an irregular, ragged, or blurred border, and its color may not be uniform. For example, some cancerous moles have shades of black and brown, or change textures. They may also have patches of pink, red, or white pigment.
Some people who have many moles on the body may be at higher risk of having a cancerous mole. Typically, cancerous moles are about the size of a pencil eraser, but they can sometimes be smaller if they are melanomas.
How To Check Your Skin at Home
Skin checks for cancer should be done once a year if you have previously had cancer or you have pre-cancerous lesions or moles. However, in between your regular skin checks, you can also perform skin checks at home to keep an eye on any suspicious patches of skin. Doing your own skin checks can help you and your specialist be proactive about your health.
To check your skin at home, you will need to use a large mirror, such as a full-length mirror. You should check all areas of your skin, including the underarms, forearms, palms, legs, between the toes, and the soles of your feet. You should also check your back and buttocks, and use a hand mirror to check your neck and scalp. If you find any suspicious skin, make a note of it and schedule a skin check with your specialist.
What Are the Different Types of Cancer?
During your skin check, your skin specialist will be looking for four specific types of cancer. Cancer of the skin is categorized based on the type of skin cells that are behaving abnormally. The different types of skin cancer include:
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
The most common type of cancer, BCC may be benign or malignant. BCC is typically flesh-colored and has a pearl-like bump on the skin.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
The second most common type of cancer, SCC may also be benign or malignant. SCC first appears as a red or firm bump of skin, and can sometimes be a scaly patch of skin. SCC may also present as a sore on the skin that partially heals and then reopens for several weeks or months.
Actinic Keratosis (AK)
This is the third most common type of cancer can is the best indicator of precancerous skin conditions. Roughly 10% of AK lesions are precancerous skin cells that will become cancer in the future. Catching AKs quickly is the key to avoiding later stages of cancer.
Melanoma is the most dangerous and aggressive form of cancer on the skin. Melanoma can develop from existing moles or can start as new moles on the skin. Melanoma can also form on any skin visible on the body and may appear to be normal skin at first glance.
How Is Cancer Diagnosed?
Diagnosing cancer is a multi-step process that first begins with at-home skin checks. If you find a suspicious patch of skin, then you should schedule a skin check with a specialist. If the specialist determines that you may have a suspicious mole or a potential AK, then a small biopsy will be performed and a small sample of skin will be sent for lab testing. The lab will then determine if the skin sample is cancerous and then a treatment plan will be designed if the sample is positive for cancer.
How Is Cancer Treated?
Compared to treating other types of cancer, treating cancer of the skin involves many different options. The stage and type of cancer will be important factors for determining how cancer should be treated. Your potential treatment options will include:
- Excision surgery
- Mohs surgery
- Curettage and electrodesiccation
- Photodynamic therapy
- Medicated creams and prescription medications
Should You See a Skin Specialist?
Most of the time, seeing a skin specialist is a good idea if you suspect that a patch of skin or a mole is suspicious. Being cautious about your skin condition is your first step for preventative medicine. Along with having certain skin symptoms, people who are over the age of 30, those who have light skin, and those who have a family history of cancer are all good candidates for seeing a skin specialist.
Put Your Mind at Ease With Our Specialists
Knowing the signs of cancer on your skin puts you in a better position to be proactive about your health. Getting treatment early is the key to overcoming skin cancer. If your at-home skin check results in a patch of skin you feel may be suspicious, then you can put your mind at ease when you see our skin specialist. Dr. Rodney is highly skilled and provides the absolute best treatment for your skin type and needs. Dr. Rodney has extensive experience in all aspects of cosmetic, surgical, and medical dermatology for all skin types. Her undergraduate degree and dermatology residency were completed at Howard University in Washington, DC. She continued her education with a highly regarded dermatopathology fellowship at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD, where she focused on the diagnosis and management of skin cancer. Schedule your consultation today!