Understanding Skin Cancer
When most people think of cancer, breast, prostate, and lung cancers are the big three that come to mind. Skin cancer, however, is the most common type of cancer in the U.S. In 2010 (the most recent year for which data is available), more than 61,000 people were diagnosed with melanomas of the skin, reports the CDC.
Skin cancer is an abnormal growth of skin cells. There are multiple causes behind skin cell mutation, including exposure to sunlight (ultraviolet/UV radiation). Secondary causes include exposure to toxic substances and having a compromised immune system. Skin cancer can affect people of all skin tones, from light to dark. Symptoms of the three most common skin cancers appear as follows.
- Basal Cell Carcinoma: Pearly or waxy bump on the skin (usually in areas that are exposed to sun, such as the face or neck). This type of skin cancer may also appear as a flat scar-like lesion; the spot can be brown or flesh-colored.
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma: Appears as a firm, red nodule or a flat lesion with a scaly or crusted surface. This type of skin cancer usually appears on sun-exposed areas of skin; however, individuals with darker complexions may develop this type of skin cancer in non-sun-exposed regions.
- Melanoma: Appears as a large brown spot with darker speckles; a mole that bleeds or changes size/color/texture; a small lesion with irregular borders and unnatural discoloration; a dark lesion on mucous membranes or the palms, fingertips, soles, or toes. This skin cancer can appear anywhere on the body, including skin that is not exposed to the sun.
If your physician has diagnosed you with skin cancer, then you may be referred to a plastic surgeon for skin cancer removal.
How does a plastic surgeon treat skin cancer?
There are many different methods for treating skin cancer, from excisional surgery and freezing to radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and more. Many patients and physicians prefer treatment from a board-certified plastic surgeon experienced in skin cancer surgery. A plastic surgeon not only treats the cancer, but also provides cosmetic care and expertise that is not necessarily available through the average general surgeon. A few things to know about skin cancer treatment by a plastic surgeon:
- Surgery is oftentimes required to fully and effectively remove cancerous growths.
- A plastic surgeon may be able to perform this surgery in a way that preserves your appearance and the health of your skin.
- All surgeries include some degree of scarring. Dr. Faibisoff will make every possible effort to minimize the scarring in your procedure.
- Some instances of skin cancer could require more than one procedure for best results.
How do I prepare for my skin cancer treatment?
The medical staff at Four Peaks Plastic Surgery will provide you with all the information you need to prepare for your skin cancer treatment procedure. As with most any cosmetic or reconstructive surgery, it’s important to stop smoking at least several weeks before the procedure and to avoid anti-inflammatory drugs. Your surgeon will give you detailed information at your pre-op appointment. For more information about preparing for plastic surgery, download Your Guide to Cosmetic Surgery: 17 Plastic Surgery FAQs.
Skin Cancer Treatment From a Plastic Surgeon
There are many ways in which a plastic surgeon might remove your skin cancer. For simplification, the procedure can be broken down into four phases: sedation, excision, reconstruction, and bandaging.
First, the patient receives either intravenous sedation or general anesthesia. Next, the surgeon surgically removes the cancerous bump or lesion. In the event that the borders of the skin cancer are not clearly defined, your surgeon may need to have the excised tissue tested during the operation to see if further removal is necessary.
Once the cancerous skin cells have been removed, your plastic surgeon will reconstruct the surgical area. This may be done with a local flap (tissue already near the wound site) or with a skin graft. Once the reconstruction phase is complete, the surgery is over, and the incision site is bandaged up.
What is the recovery process like?
The duration and difficulty of your recovery process will depend on several factors, including the size and location of the excision, your health condition, and your cooperation with your surgeon’s post-op self-care guidelines. In order to improve your chances of having the best possible outcome, follow these recovery guidelines. (In case of conflicting recommendations, always follow the specific care guidelines provided by your surgeon.)
- Clean your surgical site and change bandages in accordance with your surgeon’s recommendations.
- Keep the incision site clean and protected from injury.
- Limit any kind of movement or stretching that may put unnecessary stress on the incision site and sutures.
While the actual wound may heal in a few weeks or months, the incisions may require a year or more to refine and fade. In some cases, Dr. Faibisoff may perform a follow-up procedure to manage the scarring.
How long will the results last? Will my skin cancer come back?
No treatment can guarantee full remission of any kind of cancer. However, the surgical treatment of localized skin cancer, when detected early on, can have a positive outcome for many patients. Ask your surgeon to learn more about the outlook of your particular case.