People can have skin cancer and yet not feel ill, which makes early treatment and diagnosis a little challenging. But by being aware of the early stages of this disease, you can protect yourself and seek effective treatment right away. Do you have scaly patches, raised growths, or sores that do not heal? Dr. Jurzyk from Advanced Dermatology Center in Wolcott, CT can help you identify and treat all types of cancer of the skin, keeping you from fatal complications.
The Early Stages of Skin Cancer
Some forms of cancer, especially melanoma, may appear suddenly and without warning. Most people become alarmed only when they develop a crust or sore that refuses to heal. Did you know that the early stages of cancer do not always look or feel so bad? Harmless-looking moles, skin lesions, or unusual skin growths may also be the signs of early stages.
Regular skin examination can help you spot these early clues. If you see anything suspicious or observe unusual appearances in your skin, we can help you get the right diagnosis and treatment immediately. Some forms of cancer in the skin can be life-threatening and spread without being given urgent attention.
Basal Cell Carcinoma Early Stages
Basal cells are found within the skin and are responsible for producing new skin cells as old ones degenerate. Basal cell carcinoma starts with the appearance of slightly transparent bumps, but they may also show through other symptoms.
In the beginning, a basal cell carcinoma resembles a small bump, similar to a flesh-colored mole or a pimple. The abnormal growths can also look dark, shiny pink, or scaly red in some cases.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma Early Stages
The second most common form of cancer in the skin is squamous cell carcinoma. At first, cancer cells appear as flat patches in the skin, often with a rough, scaly, reddish, or brown surface. These abnormal cells slowly grow in sun-exposed areas. Without proper treatment, squamous cell carcinoma can become life-threatening once it has spread and damaged healthy tissue and organs.
The Five Stages of Skin Cancer
Cancer in the skin that’s at high risk for spreading shares features with basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Some of these features are:
- Not less than 2 mm in thickness
- Has spread into the inner layers of the skin
- Has invaded skin nerves
In the earliest stage, cancer is only present in the upper layer of the skin. You may notice the appearance of blood vessels or a dent in the center of the skin growth. There are no traces of malignant cells beyond this layer.
At stage 1, cancer has not spread to muscles, bone, and other organs. It measures roughly 4/5 of an inch. There’s a possibility that it may have spread into the inner layer of the skin.
In this stage, cancer has become larger than 4/5 of an inch. Cancer still has not spread to muscles, bone, and other organs.
At stage 3, the cancer is still larger than 4/5 of an inch. Facial bones or a nearby lymph node may have been affected, but other organs remain safe. It may also spread to areas below the skin, such as into muscle, bone, and cartilage but not far from the original site.
Cancer can now be of any size and has likely spread into lymph nodes, bones, cartilage, muscle, or other organs. Distant organs such as the brain or lungs may also be affected. In rare cases, this stage might cause death when allowed to grow and become more invasive.
How Is Skin Cancer Diagnosed?
Many people do not show symptoms of cancer in the skin unless their condition has advanced. However, through regular skin examinations, you can tell what’s normal and what’s not, so you can seek professional advice once you see any suspicious growth.
When seeking professional help, you can get a total body skin exam from a certified dermatologist. We will review your medical history and ask you about the suspicious growths in your skin. To see your skin structures clearly, we might use a dermatoscope and take photographs of your lesions or abnormal growths. If you have a high risk of skin cancer, regular screening can help you detect the appearance of cancers much sooner.
What Is a Biopsy?
A proper diagnosis of cancer in the skin is made possible through biopsy. We will remove a skin tissue sample and send it to a laboratory. A pathologist will then examine your samples and look for abnormal cells that could be cancerous. Through a biopsy, you can also get accurate information about the stage of skin cancer you might have.
For advanced melanoma, we request imaging tests and lymph node biopsy to see whether cancer has affected other parts of the body. Additional evaluation is made possible using any or a combination of the following methods:
- Computed tomography (CT)
- Positron emission tomography (PET)
- Chest x-ray
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Measurement of lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) levels
Your Treatment Options
Early diagnosis is the key to effective cancer treatment. Now that you’re familiar with how the early stages of the disease look like, you can get peace of mind by consulting with the right medical professional.
A majority of cancers in the skin are successfully treated with the help of surgery. A dermatologist can remove malignant cells as part of an outpatient procedure. There are many other treatment options you may choose from, depending on your prognosis and comfort levels.
One of the most effective ways to destroy cancer in the skin is by freezing it with liquid nitrogen. This process is also known as cryosurgery. Your dermatologist will apply liquid nitrogen to the lesion, with the use of an applicator stick or an aerosol spray.
During the process, liquid nitrogen freezes and causes the abnormal skin cells to disintegrate and die off. A local anesthetic may be applied first to ensure your comfort. It may take a few weeks to fully heal after the cryosurgery.
Cancer can be removed surgically, though the process also involves the marginal removal of healthy skin tissues. The goal is to remove all of the cancer cells. Excisional surgery is one of the most common and successful forms of cancer treatment. During your procedure, a local anesthetic is used to numb the area. The incision is closed with sutures.
A skin graft or flap may be required if the procedure is more intensive or covers a larger area. Most wounds from the surgical removal of skin cancer take a few weeks to heal.
A more precise technique for surgical cancer removal is Mohs surgery. The procedure is performed under local anesthesia while you are awake. Thin layers of affected skin are progressively removed and examined in a laboratory while you wait. The process is repeated until the exam shows that only cancer-free tissue remains. Another term for this procedure is micrographic surgery.
This treatment option has very high success rates and is generally considered very safe. It has been in use for many decades. Just like other surgical options, it can take a few weeks before the wound heals completely.
Curettage, Electrodesiccation, and Cryotherapy
Some dermatologists perform curettage, electrodesiccation, and cryotherapy to treat skin cancer. These are considered to be destructive techniques that are best suited for small, superficial carcinomas with definite borders. During the procedure, layers of skin cells are scraped away using a curette. Any remaining cancer cells are destroyed with the use of an electric needle.
In some cases, liquid nitrogen or cryotherapy is used to freeze the margins of the treatment area. Extremely low temperatures kill the malignant skin cells and create a wound, which will heal in a few weeks. The treatment may leave scars that are flat and round, similar to the size of the skin cancer lesion.
Radiation therapy may be used for further treating cancer in the skin that has recurred. The resurfacing of cancer cells may happen within weeks, months, or even years after the initial cancer treatment. In some cases, doctors cannot tell for sure whether the cancer will recur after surgery. The odds depend on your individual response to the treatment and also on the type of cancer.
Radiation therapy is most commonly used for the advanced stages of cancer where other cells, tissue, and nodes have been affected. Radiation helps treat the further spread of the disease and makes sure that the cancerous cells have been killed.
Chemotherapy is a successful treatment option for cancers in various stages. It is useful for treating superficial cancers that have only affected the topmost layer of the skin. Cancers that have also spread or metastasized can be treated using chemotherapy. The drug used sometimes comes in the form of a cream and is applied topically to the skin. Cells that come into contact with the drug are treated, but you can rest assured that very little is absorbed by the body.
Other options come in pill form or are injected into a vein, suitable for treating types that have spread to other tissues and organs. At present, chemotherapy is no longer a popular option especially for the treatment of melanomas. Chemotherapy for cancers in the skin lasts for about five months. The timeframe will also depend on the type of cancer you have and how far it has progressed.
Some forms of cancer can be treated with the use of light-sensitive medicine and a light source for killing cancer cells. This treatment is called photodynamic therapy. It is safe, effective, and takes only a day to treat even large areas with cancer. This option is suitable for cancer treatment as well as other types of skin conditions, such as fine wrinkles, skin roughness, and hyperpigmentation.
Areas treated using photodynamic therapy may take two to six weeks to completely heal. Peeling will eventually occur, leaving normal and healthy skin to grow.
Our body’s immune system can also be used to effectively kill and combat cancer. This treatment is also known as immunotherapy or biological therapy. Still being improved, this treatment has the goal of boosting the natural defenses of the body. It is also used for preventing or slowing down the growth of cancerous lesions and helps prevent further spread.
Some types of cancer respond better to immunotherapy. It may also be used in combination with other treatment options, to better ensure that cancer doesn’t come back or spread further.
Learn More About Skin Cancer
All types of cancer can be serious. Delaying treatment can cause unwanted complications, and in some cases, death. Fortunately, treatments with high success rates are now available and can help you restore your confidence, balance, and health. Contact Advanced Dermatology Center in Wolcott, CT to schedule your consultation today. We’ll be happy to answer all your questions and recommend the best treatment options!