Understanding Skin Cancer

Kids are out of school, families are taking vacations, and more people are outside enjoying the warm weather.  It’s official, summer is here.  With summer fun comes summer sun, and it’s important to understand the effect the sun is having on our bodies.

According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, accounting for nearly half of all cancers in the United States.  More than 87,000 new cases of melanoma skin cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year, and early detection is critical for survival.

Skin cancer occurs when there are abnormalities in the cells that make up the skin.  There are two main types of malignant cancers, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.  Basal cell carcinoma is a slow-growing cancer found in the base of the epidermis that accounts for about 90% of all skin cancers.  It seldom spreads, but if left untreated can invade bone and other tissues under the skin.  Squamous cell carcinoma is found on the surface of the skin.  It can be more aggressive, can grow deep below the skin and spread to distant areas of the body.  A third type of skin cancer, called melanoma, begins in the cells that produce pigment in the skin.  This type is less common, but more serious.  However, if caught early, there is a nearly 97% chance for cure.

It’s important for doctors to tell the types of skin cancer apart, because they are treated differently.  It’s also important for you to know what skin cancers look like.  This can help you find them at the earliest possible stage, when they are easier to treat and most likely to be cured.

At the Cancer Treatment Center at Hazelton, external beam radiation therapy (EBRT) is used in the treatment of skin cancer.  EBRT is a painless and noninvasive treatment for skin cancer, damaging cancer cells and their ability to multiply.  During treatment, high-energy X-rays are delivered to the cancer cells with a linear accelerator (LINAC).  The radiation is very damaging to the skin cancer cells, but is well tolerated by the surrounding normal skin cells.  Also, the radiation penetrates only a very short distance into the skin, so that internal organs can be completely spared from its effects.

Patients treated with external beam radiation therapy receive a certain number of daily radiation treatments over a period of four to five weeks.  Treatments are outpatient procedures that usually take about 15 minutes each.  Side effects are generally minimal, and most patients return to routine activities immediately after each treatment.

To find out more about radiation therapy, or to see if you are a candidate for external beam radiation therapy, please contact the Cancer Treatment Center at Hazelton today.