One of my primary responsibilities as a dermatologist is to expertly identify and manage skin cancer. It can be very satisfying to diagnose, treat, and cure a skin cancer potentially within one or two visits. Full body skin exams performed annually or sometimes more frequently allow me to find these skin cancers in earlier stages which can lead to better cure rates, better cosmetic outcomes, and better overall health for my patients. Skin cancer can be caused by tanning bed use, intense intermittent sun exposure such as sunburns, excessive cumulative sun exposure over your lifetime, smoking, genetics factors, and human papillomavirus (HPV, the wart virus).
Skin cancer is divided primarily into two categories: melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. Melanoma arises from melanocytic (mole) cells and can be deadly even in young, healthy teens and adults. The most common types of non-melanoma skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. There are several other types of non-melanoma skin cancer that are less common so they will not be described in detail here, however your dermatologist is always on the lookout for these less common types of cancer as well.
Biopsies are performed to further classify a suspected skin cancer. We learn the type, subtype, depth, margins, and other important prognostic clues that help us manage your cancer in the best possible way. I send my biopsies to a a highly trained specialist of the skin, a dermatopathologist. This is a key step in the work-up of skin cancer, as general pathologists that are not well versed in the skin may not be able to accurately diagnose more unusual skin lesions and the difference could be life and death.
To learn more about specific types of skin cancer, click on the following links for more detailed description of the most common types.