Many Pacific Northwesterners assume that with the cloudy climate, they don’t need to bother with sun protection. Unfortunately, this is not the case. UV radiation is so powerful that 70% to 80% can pass through thin clouds, the type of clouds that tend to fill the sky on overcast days in the greater Seattle area. Equally surprising is that skin cancer surgery is one of the most common procedures performed in plastic surgery.
Types of Skin Cancer
Of the non-melanoma skin cancers, basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common. BBC is a slow-growing cancer that develops in the basal cells of the epidermal layer and rarely metastasizes. If neglected, however, it can cause significant destruction and disfigurement to the skin.
The next most common non-melanoma skin cancer is squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). Like BCC, SCC is slow-growing. But SCC develops in the squamous cells of the epidermal. Though unlikely, squamous cell carcinomas can metastasize and even cause death.
Malignant melanoma, otherwise known as just melanoma is the third most common but most dangerous form of skin cancer. This cancer originates from the pigment producing cells of the skin or from pre-existing moles and can be deadly if not diagnosed and treated early. Please see our section on melanoma for more information and pictures.
Who Is At Risk?
Those who have a previous diagnosis of BCC are at higher risk for contracting SCC. Other factors that contribute to an individual’s risk for developing skin cancer are:
- Genetic susceptibility
- Fair skin, blond or red hair, light-colored eyes
Skin Cancer Treatment
In most cases, surgery will be performed on an outpatient basis with local anesthesia. The surgical method used depends on the type of cancer, its location, the degree to which it has spread and its severity, as well as the individual’s medical background.
Surgical approaches to skin cancer treatment include curettage, surgical excision, Mohs micrographic surgery, radiation therapy, or cryotherapy. For small tumors, your plastic surgeon may surgically remove the tumor, along with some healthy tissue around it, using curettage, surgical excision or cryotherapy. For more advanced cancer, or for recurring cancer, Mohs micrographic surgery may be selected so that all of the tissue removed has been methodically examined under microscope, ensuring that no cancer remains. Radiation is generally reserved for the most advanced cancer.
Aftercare varies according to the treatment used as well as factors specific to the patient, like general health, age, and medical history. Your surgeon may also schedule follow-up visits with you so that he can monitor your recovery.