An Undeclared Epidemic

Skin cancer is the most prevalent of all cancers. Estimates vary on its occurrence but it is estimated that approximately 500,000 Americans develop skin cancer every year.

What Causes Skin Cancer?

The principal cause of skin cancer is almost universally accepted by medical experts to be overexposure to sunlight, especially when it results in sunburn and blistering. Other less important factors would include: repeated medical and industrial X-ray exposure; scarring from disease or burns; occupational exposure to such compounds as coal and arsenic; family history.


Common Types

BASAL CELL CARCINOMABasal cell carcinoma
This tumor of the skin usually appears as a small, fleshy bump or nodule on the head, neck and hands. Occasionally these nodules may appear on the trunk of the body, usually as flat growths. Basal cell carcinomas seldom occur in dark-skinned persons; they are the most common skin cancers found in Caucasians. It has been found that people who have this cancer frequently have light hair, eyes and complexions, and they don’t tan easily.These tumors don’t spread quickly. It may take many months or years for one to reach a diameter of one half inch.

Untreated, the cancer will begin to bleed, crust over, then repeat the cycle. Although this type of cancer does not metastasize (spread to other parts of the body), it can extend below the skin to the bone and cause considerable local damage.


Squamous cell carcinomaSQUAMOUS CELL CARCINOMA
These tumors may appear as nodules or as red, scaly patches. Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common skin cancer found in Caucasians. It typically is found on the rim of the ear, the face, the lips and mouth. It is rarely found on dark-skinned persons. This cancer will increase in size, developing in time into large masses. Unlike Basal cell carcinoma, it can metastasize. The cure rate for both basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma is 95 percent, when properly treated.


Less common but more important (our yearly full-body exams are geared to detect these early).

Melanoma has its beginnings in melanocytes, the skin cells which produce the dark protective pigment called melanin. It is melanin which is responsible for suntanned skin acting as a partial protection against the sun. Melanoma cells usually continue to produce melanin, which accounts for the cancers appearing in mixed shades of tan, brown and black. MELANOMA HAS A TENDENCY TO SPREAD, MAKING IT ESSENTIAL TO TREAT.

Melanoma may suddenly appear without warning but it may also begin in or near a mole or other dark spot in the skin. For that reason it is important that we know the location and appearance of the moles on our bodies so any change will be noticed.

Excessive exposure to the sun, as with the other skin cancers, is accepted as a stimulant of melanoma, especially among light-skinned people. Heredity may play a part, and also atypical moles, which may run in families, can serve as markers, identifying the person as being at higher risk for developing melanoma there or elsewhere in the skin.

Dark brown or black skin is not a guarantee against melanoma. Black people can develop this cancer, especially on the palm of the hands, soles of the feet, under nails, or in the mouth.


The ABCDs of Melanoma – Signs to Look For

Asymmetry Border irregularity Uneven color Diameter greater than 6 mm
One half doesn’t match the other half.
Border irregularity
The edges are ragged, notched or blurred.
The pigmentation is not uniform. Shades of tan brown and black are present.
Diameter greater than six millimeters
(about the size of a pencil eraser). Any growth in size of a mole should be of concern.


Some additional warning signs of melanoma would include: changes in the surface of a mole; scaliness, oozing, bleeding or the appearance of a bump or nodule; spread of pigment from the border into surrounding skin; and change in sensation including itchiness, tenderness, or pain.

Melanoma, like its less aggressive cousins, basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, is almost always curable in its early stages.


Prevention is a matter of guarding the skin against the known causes. Since the sun and its ultraviolet rays would seem to be the main culprit, the most effective preventive method is sun avoidance. Limit the exposure of the skin to harmful rays by covering up and use of sunscreens with at least a 15 SPF rating.

If any growth, mole, sore or discoloration appears suddenly or begins to change, please make an appointment with Dr. Ellerin at our Burlingon, Mass. office within one month of your discovery.

Fortunately, skin cancers are relatively easy to detect and most can be cured. Even malignant melanoma, if caught in its early stages, can be treated successfully.

Yearly full body in-office exams by a dermatologist can be life-saving.

Treating Skin Cancer

Early detection is the surest way to a cure. It is a simple routine to inspect your body for any skin changes — particularly anything resembling the illustrations above.

If any growth, mole, sore or discoloration appears suddenly or begins to change, please call us at our Burlington, Massachusetts office for an appointment with Dr. Ellerin (781-272-7022). It is very important to identify skin cancers early! Fortunately, skin cancers are relatively easy to detect and most can be cured. Even malignant melanoma, if caught in its early stages, can be treated successfully.

Very rarely, a cancer will grow back. In order to detect this rare event, the treated area should be checked periodically for five years. If you become concerned about the treated area or if other skin growths appear, please return to our office promptly.