Skin Cancer Care in the Carolinas

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, with more than 9,500 people diagnosed with skin cancer every day. Yet it’s also one of the most treatable forms of cancer. With early detection and proper care, melanoma has a five-year survival rate of 99 percent.

Considering the importance of early detection, it’s crucial to understand what skin cancer is, what it looks like, and what you need to do if you suspect that you may be at risk.

How Common is Skin Cancer?

25%

25% of people in the United States will be diagnosed with skin cancer before  age 70

90%

90% of non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with UV radiation exposure

1.5

1.5 million people will be diagnosed with skin cancer this year

178k

Over 178,000 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the US this year

How Does Someone Get Skin Cancer?

Cancer forms when the DNA in your skin cells become damaged. Skin cancer is the typically result of one of three causes:
  • Exposure to harmful substances, such as UV radiation from the sun
  • Genetic mutations inherited from your parents
  • Random defects in the cell reproduction process

Scientists believe that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the cause of more than 90% of skin cancer cases. UV radiation is another name for the light and heat created by the sun or indoor tanning lamps.

Exposure to the sun or tanning lamps increases the risk of all types of skin cancer. People who experience prolonged exposure to UV radiation during childhood, particularly if they experience severe sun burns, are more likely to develop melanomas and basal cell carcinomas later in life.

What Does Skin Cancer Look Like?

Warning signs of skin cancer include:

  • Translucent or shiny bump
  • Itchy, raised patch of skin
  • Open sores that do not heal
  • Wart-like growth
  • Scaly red patches
  • Mole larger than 6mm

Who is Most Likely to Develop Skin Cancer?

Some people are more likely to develop skin cancer than others. By collecting and studying data about the genetic characteristics, environmental influences, and lifestyle choices of skin cancer patients over many years, doctors have identified certain factors that are common among people who have developed the disease. While some of these factors have not been proven to cause skin cancer, each has a correlation with a significant number of people with skin cancer.

Genetic risk factors of skin cancer:

  • Fair or light skin color
  • A family history of skin cancer
  • Skin that burns or becomes painful in the sun
  • Skin that reddens or becomes freckled in the sun
  • Blue or green eyes
  • Blond or red hair

Environmental risk factors of skin cancer:

  • A history of sunburns, especially during childhood or adolescence
  • At least one instance of severe blistering
  • Excessive sun exposure, even if skin does not blister
  • Tanning, either indoor or outdoor
  • Living at high altitude climates
  • Living in warm, sunny climates
  • Exposure to certain chemicals, such as coal tar, arsenic, and paraffin
  • A weakened immune system

What are the Types of Skin Cancer, and How Are They Different?

Statistics on types of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma

Each type of skin cancer is named for the type of cells where the cancer begins. Several other types of skin cancer exist, but they are extremely rare. There are three major types of skin cancer:

  1. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC): Named for the cells in the bottom layer of the epidermis, this is the most common type of skin cancer tumor and is the least dangerous of the three types.
  2. Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC): Named for the cells that are in the middle layer of your skin, SCC is less common but more dangerous. If left untreated, squamous cell carcinomas may cause significant disfiguration. Although squamous cell carcinomas may spread to other parts of your body, they are rarely fatal when treated promptly.
  3. Melanoma: Named for the melanocyte cells that create the pigment that gives skin its color, this is the rarest of the three main types of skin cancer, but it is the most likely to spread to other parts of your body. Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer and can be fatal.

How is Skin Cancer Treated?

How to identify skin cancer types

Treatment for skin cancer will depend on the type of skin cancer and the stage. Learn more about skin cancer treatment options below:

  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy may be used to treat advanced stages of melanoma. This type of treatment is often not the first choice of treatment for skin cancer, however.
  • Radiation: Radiation therapy for non-melanoma skin cancer is an effective alternative to surgery. This type of treatment has minimal side effects, scarring and quick healing.
  • Surgery: Surgery is a common skin cancer treatment. Several factors will be considered if surgery is the best treatment, including where the cancer is, skin cancer type, and its size.

Radiation Therapy for Skin Cancer

Radiation therapy for non-melanoma skin cancer is an effective alternative to surgery. This type of treatment has minimal side effects, scarring and quick healing.

Radiation therapy is considered an effective cancer treatment for most non-melanoma skin cancer, including basal cell and squamous cell cancers. Radiation therapy works by directing forms of radiation, including X-rays or electrons, onto the areas of the skin affected by cancer. This type of radiation is emitted from a machine positioned outside the body, and the radiation doesn’t penetrate beneath the skin.

According to American Cancer Society, radiation is effective enough to be considered a cure for some small basal and squamous cell skin cancers. It may be recommended as the primary type of cancer treatment in cases in which the skin cancer covers a large area or is in a hard-to-reach area that would be difficult to treat with surgery. In advanced skin cancer, radiation therapy may prevent or slow the growth of tumors, and it may be used after surgery as additional (adjuvant) treatment to kill remaining cancer cells. Radiation therapy can also be used in people who have skin cancer that’s spread to their lymph nodes or other areas of the body.

Expert Cancer Care in the Charlotte Metro Region

If you’re interested in radiation therapy as a method for skin cancer treatment, contact the board-certified physicians at SERO today. With cancer treatment centers in Charlotte, NC and surrounding locations, we are proud to serve individuals from across the Southeast.

Frequently Asked Questions About Radiation Therapy for Skin Cancer

Which is Worse: Basal Cell or Squamous Cell Cancer?

Squamous cell cancer is generally considered more serious than basal cell cancer because squamous cells are more likely to spread throughout the body and grow into deeper layers of the skin.
Basal cell cancer can spread, too, but that is rare — and if it does, it tends to spread much more slowly. Basal cell and squamous cell cancers are the most common skin cancers, with basal cell cancer accounting for at least 90 percent of all skin cancers in the United States. Collectively, these are called non-melanoma skin cancers.

What is the Best Treatment for Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

The best treatment for squamous cell carcinoma depends on several factors, including the patient’s age, medical history, overall health, and the stage, size, and severity of the squamous cell skin cancer. It also depends on whether the cancer has spread into the lymph nodes or other parts of the body. If squamous cell carcinomas cover a large area of the skin or are in areas on the skin that may be difficult to access through surgery, radiation may be the best cancer treatment. Radiation therapy is also considered the best treatment for squamous cell carcinoma for people with risk factors that make them more likely to have surgical complications, such as advanced age or obesity.

What are Side Effects of Head and Neck Radiation After Five Years?

In some people, radiation therapy for skin cancer treatment can lead to long-term side effects that may persist for up to five years or more after the final treatment. These side effects may include:
- Fatigue
- Sores in the mouth and gums
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- Dry mouth
- Nausea
- Hair loss
- Jaw stiffness and dysfunction
- Tooth decay
- Lymphedema (swollen lymph nodes, especially around the neck)

What's the Best Skin Care Following Radiation Therapy?

The goal of radiation therapy for skin cancer treatment is to destroy cancerous cells while sparing surrounding healthy skin tissue. However, sometimes even healthy skin can become temporarily irritated as a result of the treatment. Doctors recommend several methods for patients to take care of their skin while they are undergoing radiation therapy. These include:
- Gently wash the skin with warm water and mild soap, then gently pat dry (don’t rub).
- Avoid the use of perfumes, powders, cosmetics, tape, after-shaves, deodorants, creams, or lotions on areas of the skin receiving radiation.
- Wear loose and lightweight clothing.
- Avoid extreme hold or cold temperatures on the skin.
- Protect the skin from direct sunlight. When radiation treatment is over, patients need to use sunscreen on treated areas for the rest of their lives, as these areas will be more sensitive to the sun and more likely to burn.
- Use electric razors to carefully shave hair in the treatment area.
- Eat a nutritious diet and stay well-hydrated.