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Skin Cancer Treatment Santa Barbara

Types of Skin Cancer – Symptoms and Treatment

Skin cancer is a world-wide problem. In fact, in the United States the total number of skin cancers diagnosed each year exceeds the total number of all other forms of cancer combined. More than 3 million skin cancers are diagnosed and treated each year in the United States.

There are several different types of skin cancers, each beginning from a particular cell type in the skin. Most are categorized as melanoma vs. non-melanoma skin cancers. While melanoma is the third most common skin cancer, accounting for only about 4% of the total number of skin cancers, this type of cancer is responsible for 75% of the deaths caused by skin cancer. The key point is that early diagnosis and treatment is of paramount importance in skin cancer, especially melanoma. If caught early, melanoma has an excellent prognosis with cure rates approaching 100%, but if diagnosis and treatment are delayed, the chance for long-term survival may be only about 25%.

The most common skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma, accounting for 80% of skin cancers. This skin cancer tends to grow slowly, destroying normal health tissue and spreading into soft tissue or along nerves. Risk of metastasis to distant organs is very rare with this cancer, but it can cause significant deformity or morbidity.

Squamous cell carcinoma is less common than basal carcinoma but has a higher risk of metastases. And as mentioned before, melanoma has an even higher risk of metastasis if not diagnosed and treated in a timely fashion. Other forms of skin cancer that are less common include merkel cell carcinoma, atypical fibroxanthoma, dermatofibrosarcoma, and sebaceous carcinoma.


If your doctor notices something that is suspicious for a skin cancer, a biopsy of that lesion may be performed to determine if the lesion is a benign lesion or a skin cancer. More importantly, you should learn how to perform a monthly skin self-examination. If you notice something suspicious for skin cancer, see your dermatologist right away. It could save your life. What should you look for? Look for a sore that doesn’t heal or a scaly patch or a funny-looking mole… amongst others. Best option is to learn what most skin cancers look like, but if you notice something that doesn’t look like the other moles or growths on your body or something that is getting bigger or darker or itching or becoming raised, have your dermatologist check it out.

Is Skin Cancer Life Threatening?

Yes, skin cancers like melanoma or squamous cell carcinoma can metastasize or spread to other organs in the body. At the same time almost all skin cancers are very curable if detected and treated early. So if you have something that might be a skin cancer or if your doctor performs a biopsy on something found to be a skin cancer, do not delay treatment.

Different Types of Treatments

Depending on the type of cancer, the location of the cancer, whether the skin cancer has been treated before… these are all factors that will help to determine the best option for treatment. Skin cancers may be treated by surgery, curettage and electrodessication, Mohs surgery, some topical creams and radiation therapy. Best option is to discuss with your dermatologist.

How to Avoid Skin Cancer

Greater than 80% of skin cancers are caused by ultraviolet radiation, either from the sun or from artificial sources (e.g. tanning beds). So your best option is to wear a good, broad-spectrum sunscreen and practice sun-protective behavior (e.g. seek shade, try to limit activities to earlier morning or later afternoon, etc).

A good idea is to apply a sunscreen on a daily basis. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen. That means that it helps protect from UVB and UVA. Make sure the SPF or sun-protection factor is greater than 30, and reapply the sunscreen every 2-3 hours, more often if sweating, swimming or toweling off. It takes one ounce (i.e. one full shotglass)of sunscreen to adequately cover the skin when one is wearing a bathing suit. Try to limit outdoor activities when the sun is most intense (between 10 AM and 3 PM). Wear a hat with a broad brim and wear clothing that will help protect your body.

Learn more about skin cancer and treatment with a visit one of our dermatologists. To arrange a consultation, contact our office.