As the largest organ of your body, skin covers virtually every surface. Your skin’s outer layer, called the epidermis, is made up of three types of cells, each susceptible to a form of cancer.
Ear, nose, and throat specialists like the professionals at Lawrence Otolaryngology Associates primarily focus on a body area called the “H zone,” where more aggressive, higher-risk forms of skin cancer tend to develop. For this reason, an otolaryngologist may be the more appropriate choice for medical attention than a primary care physician or dermatologist.
The most important takeaway is that certain skin irregularities must not be ignored, regardless of where on the body they occur or which medical professional you choose to visit. Early detection of skin cancer is the best way to ensure successful treatment.
Three types of cancer
Your epidermis has scaly, flat surface cells called squamous cells, and under them are round basal cells and melanocytes, the cells that provide skin color and some light protection for your skin. Each of these cells can develop its own form of cancer.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer, accounting for about 75% of cases. While it’s not usually life-threatening, it can be disfiguring if it’s not treated. Basal cell tumors usually present as hard, red spots, pimples that never heal, or as small scaly areas less than one-quarter inch in diameter and red in color.
Basal cell cancers rarely spread to other parts of the body, one of the reasons why it’s the least dangerous form of the disease.
Squamous cell cancers are the next most common form of skin cancer, and they’re more concerning than basal cell tumors since they can spread elsewhere in the body, even though it’s easy to treat when caught early.
It shows in the form of firm red spots, bleeding sores that resists healing, or as an otherwise irregular patch of skin. Squamous cell cancers are most common on ears, lips, and scalp.
Melanoma, a cancer of the melanocytes, is the most aggressive and dangerous form of skin cancer. Because of its origin in the cells that give skin its color, melanoma usually starts in a mole or other patch of pigmented skin. Untreated melanomas can easily spread to other parts of the body.
There are a few other, rare cancers that can affect the skin in deeper layers or blood supply, but surface layer cancers are much more common.
The importance of early detection
The spread of cancer from its original location, called metastasizing, is one of the dangers of the disease that can be the most life-threatening. Dealing with a single cancer is often successful, but when it attacks from multiple points, treatments become complex and harder on your body.
Some forms of skin cancer can be recognized before the condition is even cancerous. They can be treated and removed long before you’re at risk of metastasizing. The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that 99% of cases could be curable when diagnosed and treated in their early stages.
Changes to the skin on the face and neck are perhaps the easiest to recognize, since you’re able to examine these areas on a daily basis.
When something changes, whether it’s the size or color of an existing spot or the emergence of a new one, schedule an appointment with Lawrence Otolaryngology Associates by calling the closest of their two locations in Lawrence and Ottawa. Know your skin’s status for the new year.