When detected early, skin cancer responds well to treatment.
The most common type of cancer experienced, skin cancer is a disease about 2 million people are diagnosed with each year in the United States. While any part of the body may be affected by this disease, skin cancer typically affects exposed areas of the head and neck.
Most forms of skin cancer affect the outermost layer of skin (epidermis).
Rarely spreading to other parts of the body, skin cancer often responds well to treatment when detected early by specialists like ear, nose, and throat doctors.
With over a million new cases diagnosed each year, basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. It’s characterized by flesh-colored raised bumps sometimes mistaken as pimples. The morpheaform type of basal cell carcinoma is often difficult to treat since it usually expands into surrounding tissue.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Having burns or being exposed to radiation may increase the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer that sometimes develops inside of the mouth. On the face, it’s often seen on the forehead, nose, and lower lip. Sometimes appearing as red bumps or persistent ulcers, this form of skin cancer may also affect lymph nodes.
Melanoma and Less-Common Skin Cancers
Often first noticed as a mole that develops unusual characteristics, melanoma is considered the most harmful type of skin cancer since it can spread to other parts of the body. Less common forms of cancer that may affect skin include atypical fibroxanthoma, cutaneous lymphoma, and merkel cell carcinoma.
Signs and Symptoms
Basal cell carcinomas may have minimal symptoms, while squamous cell carcinomas are sometimes painful. Regardless of the type of cancer involved, any unusual skin changes, especially around the face and neck, should be reason enough to see an ear, nose, and throat specialist. Signs of skin cancer may also include bleeding and itching or moles and other skin irregularities that change in appearance, size, and shape.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Following an initial examination, a determination of whether or not skin cancer is present is typically made with a biopsy. This is quick test where a tissue sample is collected and tested. Treatment will depend on the size and location of the growth. For instance, basal cell carcinoma around the eyelids, nose, or ears may require special attention. Skin cancer treatment may involve:
Topical medications for superficial skin cancer
Surgical removal of the affected tissues, usually with a local anesthetic
Electrodesiccation and curettage (EDC) for small cancers
Chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy
Chemotherapy done orally or intravenously to encourage new cell growth
Cryosurgery to freeze the affected cells
It’s estimated that individuals who have one type of skin cancer have a 20 percent chance of developing another form of the disease within two years. Even without a previous history of skin cancer, there are certain risk factors that can contribute to abnormal cell development. These include exposure to UV light from the sun or use of tanning beds, underlying immune system conditions such as HIV/AIDS, exposure to certain chemicals, problems with skin pigmentation, and age.