Skin Cancer of the Head and Neck
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States and involves abnormal growths of skin cells that can form anywhere on the body, but most frequently appear in areas that are regularly exposed to the sun such as the skin of the head and neck. There are more than a million new cases of skin cancer in the U.S. each year. Although most cases of skin cancer can be successfully treated, it is still important to keep skin safe and healthy and try to prevent this disease. please contact one of our offices today to schedule a consultation with one of our doctors if you are a loved one who has suffered from skin cancer.
Types Of Skin Cancer
There are three major types of skin cancer that affect associated layers of the skin. These major types are:
Squamous cell carcinoma affects the squamous cells, which are just below the outer surface of the skin and serve as the inner lining.
Basal cell carcinoma affects the basal cells, which lay under the squamous cells and produce new skin cells.
Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer and affects the melanocytes, which produce melanin.
Nonmelanoma skin cancers make up the vast majority of all head and neck cancers. Basal cell carcinoma, the most frequently found type of neck and neck skin cancer, develops over time on areas with a lot of sun exposure. While these lesions can often be removed quickly with a minimally invasive procedure when caught early, all forms of cancer carry a risk for metastasis or spreading to other sites. Therefore, skin exams should always include a thorough check of the entire head and neck to ensure that any abnormal changes are discovered quickly.
the survival rates for the three most common skin cancers
Any form of cancer involves stages. The higher the stage the less likely you will beat the cancer and survive. That’s why it’s so important to have a dermatologist diagnose skin cancer early when it is stage 0 or 1.
- Melanoma is deadly when it metastasizes, but it’s very curable in its early stages. The five-year survival guide for melanoma stages 0, 1, and 2 is 98.4 percent. The five-year survival rate for stage 3 melanoma is 63.6 percent. Stage 4 melanoma has only a 22.5 percent survival rate.
- Basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma both have very high survival rates. Since they grow quite slowly, there is little information by stages. The five-year survival rate for all basal cell carcinomas is 100 percent. The five-year survival rate for squamous cell carcinoma is 95 percent.
How common is skin cancer?
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States with over 3 million people being diagnosed each year. Twenty percent of us will develop skin cancer sometime of our lives. The incidence of basal cell carcinoma has increased 145 percent since the 1970s; squamous cell carcinoma cases have increased 263 percent. Scariest of all — the American Cancer Society estimates that one million Americans are living with untreated melanoma. Those statistics are especially concerning in a sunny place such as Texas where we all get plenty of exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation.
Causes Of Skin Cancer
Every day, skin cells die and new ones form to replace them in a process controlled by DNA. Skin cancer can form when this process does not work properly because of damage to DNA. New cells may form when they are not needed or older cells may not die. This can cause a growth of tissue known as a tumor. DNA damage is often a result of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or tanning lamps. Since skin cancer can sometimes affect areas not exposed to the sun, heredity may also be a factor.
Certain factors, such as fair skin, moles, a weakened immune system and age, can also increase the risk of skin cancer.
Symptoms Of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer can often be identified as a new or changed growth on the skin that may often occur on the scalp, face, lips, ears and neck. Basal cell carcinoma most commonly develops on the ears or the face, especially the forehead. It often progresses from a small, light-colored spot to increase in size and take on the appearance of a sore. The lesion may or may not change in color. Squamous cell carcinoma tends to develop on the lower lip or ears most frequently. Its appearance is usually similar to that of a basal cell carcinoma. Melanoma will often present with a black or dark blue spot on the skin.
How Is Skin Cancer Diagnosed?
It is important to see your doctor if you notice any skin changes. Early detection is valuable in successfully treating skin cancer. Regular full body screening is recommended as well. A biopsy is performed to properly diagnose suspected cancerous growths.
Can skin cancer be painful?
Skin cancer lesions are typically not painful at all. The lesions may bleed if bumped or scratched, but there usually isn’t any pain. That’s one of the problems with skin cancer — people don’t feel anything, so they don’t worry about having their skin checked for suspicious lesions.
How quickly can skin cancer spread?
There are three ways cancer spreads through the body: through the tissue, the lymph system, and the blood. This is called metastasis when cancer cells break away from where they began (the primary tumor) and spread through the lymph system and blood stream to other parts of the body.
Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma grow quite slowly, and they don’t usually spread. They can be disfiguring, and they can grow into bone if left untreated.
Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer because it can easily spread. Unlike the other two most common skin cancers, melanoma can grow very quickly. It can become life-threatening in as little as 6 weeks and, if left untreated, can spread to other parts of the body. When this happens, the odds of survival decrease dramatically.
Skin Cancer Treatment Options
Treatment for skin cancer depends on the type, size and location of the tumor. Most options remove the entire growth and are usually effective. Removal procedures are usually simple and require only a local anesthetic in an outpatient setting. Some of the treatment options for skin cancer include:
Freezing – also known as cryosurgery, kills tissue by freezing them with liquid nitrogen
Excision – the abnormal tissue, as well as some surrounding healthy tissue, is cut out of the skin
Laser therapy – destroys cancerous growths with little damage to surrounding tissue and few side effects
Mohs surgery – removes larger skin growths layer by layer until no abnormal cells remain to prevent damage to healthy skin
Chemotherapy – uses drugs to kill cancer, may be applied through creams or lotions for top layer tumors
Although most treatment for skin cancer of the head and neck is successful, new tumors can still form. It is important to practice preventive measures and see your doctor on a regular basis. You can also perform self skin checks on all visible areas to spot any changes as soon as possible.
When you should start having your skin checked
There really isn’t a stock age where you should begin having your skin checked. The earlier, the better is a good way to look at it, though. If this sounds like you, you should have yearly exams beginning now. If You have:
- Fair skin, a tendency to burn rather than tan, freckles, light eye color, light or red hair color
- Had a series of peeling burns in your youth
- Increased numbers of unusual moles, or you have over 50 moles
- A family history of melanoma in an immediate relative
- Already had any form of skin cancer
If you don’t have the above risk factors, 35 to 40 is a good age to start having regular skin exams.
What signs should I look for to spot melanoma?
Since melanoma is the form of skin cancer that is far and away the deadliest, it’s a good idea to always be on the lookout on your own. With melanoma, you can follow the ABCDE warning signs:
Asymmetry — If one half of the mole doesn’t match the other half, that’s a concern. Normal moles are symmetrical.
Border — If the border or edges of your mole are ragged, blurred, or irregular, it should be checked.
Color — Normal moles are a single shade throughout. If your mole has changed color or if it has different shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white, or red, then it should be checked.
Diameter — If a mole is larger than the eraser of a pencil, it needs to be checked.
Evolving — If a mole evolves by shrinking, growing larger, changing color, itching or bleeding, or other changes, it should be checked. Melanoma lesions often grow in size or gain height rapidly.
What recovery is like after skin cancer surgery
As discussed above, most of these surgeries can be quite small, requiring little, if any, recovery. Larger incisions will require care to avoid pressure or impact on the incision. For the most part, these are not difficult recoveries.