Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. More than 500,000 new cases are reported each year—and the incidence is rising faster than any other type of cancer. While skin cancers can be found on any part of the body, about 80 percent appear on the face, head, or neck, where they can be disfiguring as well as dangerous.

Who gets skin cancer …and why

The primary cause of skin cancer is ultraviolet radiation—most often from the sun, but also from artificial sources like sunlamps and tanning booths. In fact, researchers believe that our quest for the perfect tan, an increase in outdoor activities, and perhaps the thinning of the earth’s protective ozone layer are behind the alarming rise we’re now seeing in skin cancers.

Anyone can get skin cancer—no matter what your skin type, race or age, no matter where you live or what you do. But your risk is greater if…

  • Your skin is fair and freckles easily.
  • You have light-colored hair and eyes.
  • You have a large number of moles, or moles of unusual size or shape.
  • You have a family history of skin cancer or a personal history of blistering sunburn.
  • You spend a lot of time working or playing outdoors.
  • You live closer to the equator, at a higher altitude, or in any place that gets intense, year-round sunshine.
  • You received therapeutic radiation treatments for adolescent acne.

Types of skin cancer

By far the most common type of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma. Fortunately, it’s also the least dangerous kind—it tends to grow slowly and rarely spreads beyond its original site. Though basal cell carcinoma is seldom life threatening, if left untreated it can grow deep beneath the skin and into the underlying tissue and bone, causing serious damage (particularly if it’s located near the eye).

Squamous cell carcinoma is the next most common kind of skin cancer, frequently appearing on the lips, face, or ears. It sometimes spreads to distant sites, including lymph nodes and internal organs. Squamous cell carcinoma can become life threatening if it’s not treated.

A third form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, is the least common, but its incidence is increasing rapidly, especially in the Sunbelt states. Malignant melanoma is also the most dangerous type of skin cancer. If discovered early enough, it can be completely cured. If it’s not treated quickly, however, malignant melanoma may spread throughout the body and is often deadly.

Other skin growths you should know about

Two other common types of skin growths are moles and keratoses.

Moles are clusters of heavily pigmented skin cells, either flat or raised above the skin surface. While most pose no danger, some—particularly large moles present at birth—or those with mottled colors and poorly defined borders—may develop into malignant melanoma. Moles are frequently removed for cosmetic reasons, or because they’re constantly irritated by clothing or jewelry (which can sometimes cause pre-cancerous changes).

Solar or actinic keratoses are rough, red or brown, scaly patches on the skin. They are usually found on areas exposed to the sun, and sometimes develop into squamous cell cancer.

Recognizing skin cancer

Basal and squamous cell carcinomas can vary widely in appearance. The cancer may begin as small, white or pink nodule or bumps; it can be smooth and shiny, waxy, or pitted on the surface. Or it might appear as a red spot that’s rough, dry, or scaly; a firm, red lump that may form a crust; a crusted group of nodules; a sore that bleeds or doesn’t heal after two to four weeks; or a white patch that looks like scar tissue.

Malignant melanoma is usually signaled by a change in the size, shape, or color of an existing mole, or as a new growth on normal skin. Watch for the “ABCD” warning signs of melanoma: Asymmetry—a growth with unmatched halves; Border irregularity—ragged or blurred edges; Color—a mottled appearance, with shades of tan, brown, and black, sometimes mixed with red, white, or blue; and Diameter—a growth more than 6 millimeters across (about the size of a pencil eraser), or any unusual increase in size.

If all these variables sound confusing, the most important thing to remember is this: Get to know your skin and examine it regularly, from the top of your head to the soles of your feet. (Don’t forget your back.) If you notice any unusual changes on any part of your body, have a doctor check it out.

Diagnosis and treatment

Skin cancer is diagnosed by removing all or part of the growth and examining its cells under a microscope. It can be treated by a number of methods, depending on the type of cancer, its stage of growth, and its location on your body. Small skin cancers can often be excised quickly and easily in our office.

Most skin cancers are removed surgically, by a surgeon or a dermatologist. If the cancer is small, the procedure can be done quickly and easily, in an outpatient facility or the physician’s office, using local anesthesia. The procedure may be a simple excision, which usually leaves a thin, barely visible scar. Or curettage and desiccation may be performed. In this procedure the cancer is scraped out with an electric current to control bleeding and kill any remaining cancer cells. This leaves a slightly larger, white scar. In either case, the risks accompanying surgery are low.

If the cancer is large, however, or if it has spread to the lymph glands or elsewhere in the body, major surgery may be required. Other possible treatments for skin cancer include cryosurgery (freezing the cancer cells), radiation therapy (using x-rays), topical chemotherapy (anti-cancer drugs applied to the skin), and Mohs surgery, a special procedure in which the cancer is shaved off one layer at a time. (Mohs surgery is performed only by specially trained physicians and often requires a reconstructive procedure as follow-up.)

Discussing your options and concerns

All of the treatments mentioned above, when chosen carefully and appropriately, have good cure rates for most basal cell and squamous cell cancers—and even for malignant melanoma, if it’s caught very early, before it’s had a chance to spread.

You should discuss these choices thoroughly with your doctor before beginning treatment. Find out which options are available to you

A word about reconstruction

The different techniques used in treating skin cancers can be life saving, but they may leave a patient with less than pleasing cosmetic or functional results. Depending on the location and severity of the cancer, the consequences may range from a small but unsightly scar to permanent changes in facial structures such as your nose, ear, or lip.

In such cases, no matter who performs the initial treatment, the surgeon can be an important part of the treatment team. Reconstructive techniques—ranging from a simple scar revision to a complex transfer of tissue flaps from elsewhere on the body—can often repair damaged tissue, rebuild body parts, and restore most patients to acceptable appearance and function.

Preventing a recurrence

After you’ve been treated for skin cancer, your doctor should schedule regular follow-up visits to make sure the cancer hasn’t recurred.

Your physician, however, can’t prevent a recurrence. It’s up to you to reduce your risks by changing old habits and developing new ones. (These preventive measures apply to people who have not had skin cancer as well.)

Avoid prolonged exposure to the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and during the summer months. Remember that ultraviolet rays pass right through water and clouds, and reflect off sand and snow.

When you do go out for an extended period of time, wear protective clothing such as wide brimmed hats and long sleeves.

On any exposed skin, use a sunscreen with SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15. Reapply it frequently, especially after you’ve been swimming or sweating.

Finally, examine your skin regularly. If you find anything suspicious, consult a surgeon or a dermatologist as soon as possible.

When reviewing information about specific surgery procedures, it is important to understand that the circumstances and experience of every individual are unique. If you are considering surgery, please ask Dr. Fraziero, Dr. Spink or Dr. Clemow for further information about the particular procedure and what you can expect.

Maxillofacial & Implant Surgery of Western Mass

5 out of 5 stars based on 12 Skin Cancer reviews

Our Latest Patient Testimonial

Had a tooth extraction and bone graft with Dr. Kernizan. Best dental experience I've had. All went well. His staff put you at ease. It was painless and was over in a few minutes. I would highly recommend.

- Richard W

5 out of 5 stars on

Our Latest Patient Testimonial

Staff was exceptionally helpful! At every corner there was a new smile and a friendly face to help ease my dental anxiety. The doctors were very informative and answered all my questions with ease.

- Tina B

5 out of 5 stars on

Our Latest Patient Testimonial

I am terrified of the dentist. Even the mention of one. Ugh. DMD Max Kernizan, Thank you for your patience and understanding. You are one of a kind!

- Priscilla P

5 out of 5 stars on

Our Latest Patient Testimonial

Dr Max cared for a family members oral surgical needs. The care and compassion he had in a difficult situation truly warmed my heart. Thank you Dr Kernizian, you were amazing!!!

- Leenie B

5 out of 5 stars on

Our Latest Patient Testimonial

Im so happy I had them. I had such a bad infection from a broken tooth and they took such amazing care of me.

- Kelly S

5 out of 5 stars on

Our Latest Patient Testimonial

I find it difficult to accurately put into words how incredibly personable, helpful, genuine and knowledgeable this entire practice is. So often I have had experiences with medical professionals that make me feel like I don't know what I am talking about, and feel they are not listening to me or taking me seriously. One visit and because Dr. K and his assistant listened to me and gave me hope of feeling better, I walked out of that office the happiest I have felt in years!!! Thank you just does not express how grateful I am. I think Dr. K (sorry, about the abbreviations) is a leader in his field.

- Kimberly M

5 out of 5 stars on

Our Latest Patient Testimonial

All of the staff were very friendly and kind.Makes you feel like you are the only patient that is there.

- Richard D

5 out of 5 stars on

Our Latest Patient Testimonial

Thank you for your attention and having consideration of our last review and my feelings, this time we experienced the same great service, Im greatly appreciated.

- Kethzie L

5 out of 5 stars on

Our Latest Patient Testimonial

Thank you for the excellent care I recently received for teeth extractions. The only pain involved was MY unnecessary anxiety and childhood imagination! (I grew up next to a dentist and could hear the drill wizzing away all the time - I can still hear it!). Wow, how things have changed.I had 7 teeth extracted, done in a hour, and NO PAIN!!!! Thank you....

- Paul M

5 out of 5 stars on

Our Latest Patient Testimonial

I first saw Dr Spink in June of 2016. He has always been kind, caring and compassionate, especially when he had to tell me I had oral cancer. He clearly explained the surgery he and a plastic surgeon would be performing at the end of July. I have never doubted his expertise or his caring in treating me. I came through the surgery, which was performed at Baystate Medical Center, with flying colors. He had to remove a good part of my tongue and replace it with a radial forearm free flap.He also had to perform a neck dissection to make sure the cancer hadn't spread. I trust his good judgement and skill. I have already recommended him to two other people I know who are having oral problems. I am forever grateful to him and to the great staff of people who work at FCMS. They have taken great care of me!!

- Jackie R

5 out of 5 stars on

Our Latest Patient Testimonial

Dr. Fraziero was very informative about the procedure. He explained what he was going to do before he did it. He was professional and caring. A couple members of the staff, Dr. Fraziero and I all chatted throughout the procedure. It was a very relaxing atmosphere. I will highly recommend him, and I will certainly be going back! Thank you all so much for a wonderful experience.

- Deborah W

5 out of 5 stars on

Our Latest Patient Testimonial

As I've said, I have been miserable for weeks. Another dentist was not able to help me so referred me to Dr. Fraziero. I couldn't be happier with my experience and would recommend him to anyone who will listen!!!

- Holly W

5 out of 5 stars on