Lumps, bumps and moles: skin cancer recognition and treatment

September 1, 2018

Summer is the perfect time for laying out, relaxing and enjoying the warm rays of the sun.

Unfortunately, the same sun that cheers you causes various types of skin cancers to form and grow. Many individuals have existing sun spots, moles and bumps, but how do you know when these are more serious and should be checked by a physician?

Recognizing potential skin cancers

Skin cancer can take on a variety of forms. They can be crusty patches or scaly areas that eventually form a scab. The scab is picked until it bleeds and scabs over again, and many people assume the sore is healing. These lesions that crust over and bleed repeatedly for a period of time are very likely basal or squamous cell carcinoma.

Skin cancer can also take the form of non-pigmented moles, elevated growths or depressions on the skin and shiny, scar-like areas that appear waxy. Sometimes you can’t tell for sure by simply looking at the area in question. If you notice something new on your skin, especially if it keeps growing, it’s time to have it checked by a physician.

Although less common, melanoma is one of the most dangerous forms of skin cancer. Melanoma is characterized as a deep, black mole that tests malignant. However, it could also appear as a much darker or much lighter shade of brown than a person’s other moles. The borders will be less defined and may be raised and bumpy.

When to see a doctor

Asking questions at a yearly physical and paying attention to the marks on your body are critical steps for catching skin cancer in its early stages when it is much easier to treat. Scabs that repeatedly bleed, get bumpy and grow instead of healing to match the rest of your skin, need to be checked by a physician. Don’t be afraid to ask your family physician to check out an area, especially on your scalp, neck or the back of your ear.

An open dialogue with your family physician is critical when dealing with skin-related concerns. General practitioners help determine when a specialist like those at Columbus Otolaryngology Clinic need to be consulted.

Treatment varies based on severity

Most cases of basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are cured by removing the lesion. Small lesions are removed by freezing, scraping or cauterizing the problem area.

Treatment becomes more involved when the cancer has spread to larger areas of the skin and needs to be excised. Working closely with pathologists, the margins of the cancer are determined. Then the area is mapped out like the face of a clock to identify exactly where to remove the cells. If there are cells that extend from three to six o’clock on the map, more cells are taken from that area and are tested again. This process continues until all of the cancer is removed from the area.

Radiation is another treatment option, but surgery remains the mainstay for basal, squamous cell and melanoma treatment.

Early detection is critical

As with most cancers, early detection is critical for the best outcomes. Smaller carcinomas are much easier to remove from the nose, lips, face, head, neck and shoulders. When caught early enough, the treatment can be as simple as applying ointment to the affected area.

For more information about skin lesions and cancer detection, visit www.columbushosp.org.

Nila Novotny is an otolaryngologist with Columbus Otolaryngology Clinic.

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