Skin cancer concerns are especially real for people living in regions like Belize where sun exposure can be continual and severe.
A reassuring visit to the skin doctor.
Skin cancer screening can be done in the dermatologist’s office by appointment. The office visit itself is not expensive, and generally does not require any lab work unless tests are needed to rule out or confirm a suspicious spot on your skin. How do you tell if you should have something checked? Have a look at this short video:
What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. It occurs when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells (most often caused by ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds) triggers mutations, or genetic defects, that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors.
About 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. These include basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
Actinic keratosis is the most common condition we find during a skin cancer screening. It is regarded as the earliest stage of squamous cell carcinoma by some experts, while others consider it to be precancer. At any rate, is is very important to treat these “sun spots” because the more serious forms of skin cancer may arise from them.
Cutaneous melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. If melanoma is recognized and treated early, it is almost always curable, but if it is not, the cancer can advance and spread to other parts of the body where treatment can be very difficult and the disease can be fatal.
Further treatment, when necessary.
Skin cancer, or pre-cancers, can be treated by a dermatologist. The specific treatment prescribed will depend on your unique situation.
Treatment can almost always be performed on an outpatient basis in the physician’s office or at a clinic.
This can include:
Mohs Micrographic Surgery: A technique that is frequently used for tumors that have recurred, are poorly demarcated, or are in critical areas around the eyes, nose, lips or ears.
Surgical Excision: Sometimes the tumor is simply cut out of the skin, along with a safety margin of normal skin. The cure rates of this surgery are around 90 percent.
Nonmelanoma skin cancers that are located below the neck can be treated in a number of other ways as well. One is by “scraping” it off with a curette (a sharp ring-shaped instrument) and then heating the wound with an electrocautery needle to finish the job. Cryosurgery, a freezing method, also has a fairly high success rate but it is less commonly used. And finally, two topical medications that are used over a period of weeks or months have a success rate of 80-90 percent.
Your dermatologist can explain these treatments in more detail and recommend the course of action best suited to your individual case.
Don’t forget to watch your own skin for changes in any moles, sores or spots. If you have any doubts, it is better to have your skin checked by a dermatologist.