“What do you think of this thing on my arm?”
It’s a very typical question from patients who have something on them that has been there a while and is not going away. Of course, the underlying question is “Do you think this could be a skin cancer?” My answer is based on experience and caution. There are many things that appear on skin that are benign and are easily recognizable as benign. There are a few things that I look at and say, “I think that is a skin cancer, let’s plan on removing it and sending it off to have it looked at under the microscope”. And there are things that I just don’t know by looking so they need removing and sending also.
“What if it’s cancer?”
The answer depends on the type of cancer it is. There are 3 main types of skin cancer and almost everyone has heard of the one that’s the most dangerous: melanoma. It’s also the one that is the least common but it deserves our respect because of its unpredictability. I don’t hesitate to biopsy a skin lesion that looks like it could be a melanoma. If it turns out to be a melanoma, I will send you to a surgeon who may have to do further testing and a more advanced procedure in the operating room. The other 2 types are much more common and less dangerous but still require identification under the microscope and complete removal. Basal Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma are excised at QuikSurg with the goal of cure with the removal procedure.
“Did I do anything to cause it?”
Yes and no. Cancers don’t just appear out of nowhere. They are normal body cells (you have skin cells called squamous cells, basal cells, and melanocytes) that are changed. Specifically, the DNA in the nucleus of the cell is changed in a way that alters the cell to become precancerous and then eventually a cancer cell. Both genetics and the environment play a role in changing the DNA. In other words, you could have a certain genetic makeup in your cells such that even a small amount of UV light exposure (from the sun or tanning bed) could begin to change those cells.
“How can I be on the lookout for possible skin cancers?”
If you fit this description or even part of it, you should be suspicious of any new skin lesion: a current or past sun worshipper, fair skin usually with red or blond hair, have lots of freckles or moles, have a relative who has had a skin cancer, like the “glow” of a tan so you are a tanning bed user. Anything you have on you that is changing in size, shape, color should be looked at by an experienced skin care professional.