Skin Cancer

Q. What is skin cancer?

A. Cancer is a tissue which grows at an uncontrollable and unpredictable rate. There are three main forms of skin cancer; basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma. Theses names refer to the cells of the ski giving origin to the cancer.

Q. Is it dangerous?

A. The most common types of skin cancer are the basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Both types enlarge locally from the point of origin and usually do not spread to distant parts of the body. If not completely removed, both types will frequently invade and destroy structures in their path of growth. Malignant Melanoma may be life-threatening if not treated early. It usually appears as a brownish-black spot or bump on the skin which enlarges and sometimes bleeds. Occasionally, melanoma originate in moles which have been present for many years.

Q. What causes skin cancer?

A. The cause of skin cancer, like other forms of cancer is not completely known. Excessive exposure to sunlight is the single most important factor associated with the development of these skin cancers which appear most commonly on the face and arms. Fair-skinned people develop skin cancers more frequently than dark skinned people. Skin cancers also tend to be hereditary and occur frequently in certain ethnic groups, especially those with fair complexions. Other possible factors contributing to the development of skin cancer includes x-ray, trauma, and certain chemicals.

Q. How does skin cancer start?

A. Skin cancer begins in the upper-most layer of the skin and grows downward forming roots and spreads horizontally along the surface of the skin. Unfortunately what appears to the naked eye may only be the "tip of the iceberg".

Q. How is it removed?

A. There are three separate steps in the removal of skin cancer by Moh's Micrographic Surgery: A) Surgical removal of the visible portion of the skin cancer with excision or curettage; B) surgical removal of a thin layer of tissue at the bed of the cancer; and C) examination of the excised tissue under the microscope. By thorough examination of the bottom portion of the removed tissue, the physician is able to trace out and exactly locate any additional areas for cancer left in the patient. Before this tissue is examined it is marked with color dyes to distinguish top from bottom and right to left. By doing this, we are able to pinpoint the exact location of any remaining tumor during the microscopic examination. If more cancer is present, the procedure is repeated but only the area of the remaining cancer is removed.