Observing Skin Cancer Awareness Month

At The Plastic Surgery Center, we are strong proponents of stringent skin care. This includes prevention and early detection of skin cancer. That’s why we observe Skin Cancer Awareness and Melanoma Awareness in May.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with 3.3 million people diagnosed every year. Awareness is vital not just for those who have already been diagnosed but for those who will (one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime).

Skin cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer and one of the most treatable when it is caught early. This is particularly true of the three most prominent forms of skin cancer, which are outlined below:

Types of Skin Cancers

Below are the three most common forms of skin cancer:

  1. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC). BCCs are abnormal growths found in basal cells, which line the lower part of the epidermis. The vast majority of skin cancers are BCC. This is a nonmelanoma skin cancer.
  2. Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). Squamous cells are located on the outer part of the epidermis. SCCs are abnormal growths found in these cells. This is also a nonmelanoma skin cancer.
  3. Malignant melanoma. Melanoma impacts the melanocytes, the cells that make melanin. Melanoma is a highly aggressive cancer that can spread to other parts of the body. It is potentially fatal if not treated in a timely manner.

Treatments for Skin Cancer

There are various forms of treatment for skin cancer, depending on the type and size. Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers can be treated by prescription creams, topical medication and cryosurgery (freezing of the cancer cells). Melanoma may require medication, radiation or in some cases chemotherapy. All of these cancers are candidates for surgical treatment.

One of the most typically used surgical techniques for skin cancer is Mohs surgery. This surgery is the gold standard for removing basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma. Developed by Dr. Frederick Mohs in the 1930s, Mohs surgery involves removing the skin cancer layer by layer. Each layer of tissue is then examined under a microscope until it is cancer-free (which is referred to as clear margins). Mohs surgery is performed only by specialists who have received specific training in all aspects of the procedure. According to the American College of Mohs Surgery (ACMS), it has the highest success rate for any skin cancer treatments—up to 99 percent.

Mohs surgery is now more applicable to certain melanomas, as well. In the past, it was not widely used for fear that errant cancer cells could be missed. However, Mohs surgeons are now able to identify melanoma cells with special stains, making them easier to detect under the microscope.

The Role of the Plastic Surgeon

The role of a plastic surgeon comes into play when surgery is necessary, because the lifesaving surgical techniques required for treating skin cancer can leave patients with undesirable cosmetic and/or functional results. This is all the more relevant since approximately 80 percent of those cancers appear on highly visible parts of the body, such as the face, neck or head. Consequences of skin cancer surgery may be anything from a small but unsightly scar to altered facial structures, including those of the lip, nose or ear.

Following Mohs or other skin cancer surgery, a plastic surgeon has the expertise to perform procedures to create the best cosmetic and functional results. Some commonly used plastic surgery techniques include:

  • Primary closure: This method is used for smaller wounds, which are closed by suturing wound edges
  • Skin grafting: This technique involves removing skin from one area of the body (donor site) and transplanting it to the treatment area (recipient site)
  • Skin flap: This is used for larger wounds and involves a unit of tissue maintaining its own blood supply that is transferred from donor site to recipient site

For questions or consultation on our skin cancer procedures, or on the variety of other procedures performed by our highly-trained and experienced staff of plastic surgeons, contact The Plastic Surgery Center today.