As Skin Cancer Awareness Month continues this May, it's the perfect time to discuss the importance of early detection and treatment of skin cancer.
It may seem obvious that those with skin cancer should seek proper skin cancer treatment as soon as possible, under the supervision of their dermatologist. However, there are a number of reasons one might avoid such treatment. For one thing, an individual might have skin cancer and not realize it because they’ve been avoiding medical attention for some time. Or someone who has been diagnosed with skin cancer might not take it all that seriously and not seek out immediate care. And others may have a number of reservations about receiving treatment and/or undergoing surgery to remove their skin cancer.
Whatever the case may be, though, neglecting one’s skin cancer is a big mistake -- sometimes a deadly one. This Skin Cancer Awareness Month, let’s go over why you should never leave skin cancer untreated.
All forms of cancer have the potential to spread throughout the body, making them sometimes difficult to contain and treat without harming other parts of the body. When it comes to skin cancer, not all forms are as likely to spread all that much, but given enough time, they are more likely to extend beyond their initial limits and wreak havoc.
Nonmelanoma skin cancers such as basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) and squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs), for instance, are often slow to spread if they spread at all. But leaving these tumors untreated only increases the likelihood that they’ll eventually encroach on other healthy tissue and venture deeper into one’s skin. Melanoma, the most severe type of skin cancer, can expand and spread quite quickly. In as little as six weeks, some cases of melanoma become life-threatening, spreading to other parts of the body if left untreated.
Indeed, like all forms of cancer, skin cancer is sometimes a lethal disease, and it becomes more potentially deadly over time if left alone. There are five major stages of skin cancer (ranging from 0-4 and typically used to grade melanoma), indicating greater levels of risk as they go on. At stage 0 the cancer has stayed put and at stage 1 it is no more than 2 cm across and has no high-risk features. By stage 2, however, the cancer has grown beyond 2 cm across and harbors at least two high-risk features. Stage 3 indicates that the cancer has begun to spread to one’s bones or lymph nodes. And by stage 4, the cancer has further spread to the lymph nodes and reached one’s internal organs.
As these stages escalate, the patient’s survivability rate declines. If a case of melanoma is left untreated and reaches stage 3, the average patient’s five-year survival rate is 63.6%, and by stage 4 it is as low as 22.5%. Of course, these five-year outlooks differ on an individual basis and for different types of skin cancer. Still, the research indicates that every type of skin cancer becomes statistically more life-threatening the longer it’s left on one’s body.
Even if a case of skin cancer never becomes deadly, it can at the very least do a number on one’s physical appearance. In particular, BCCs and SCCs can lead to disfigurement as they expand and reach deeper into one’s skin. To make matters worse, these lesions often appear on or near the face, areas that are often quite visible, and of which most people are the most self-conscious. While treating/removing these tumors can certainly lead to some scars and bruises, these results tend to pale in comparison to the level of disfigurement caused by an untreated skin tumor.
On a positive note, most skin cancer cases are highly treatable and curable, especially when they are detected early on and treated shortly after. Treating an early case of skin cancer with Mohs micrographic surgery, for instance, yields an average cure rate of over 98%. And generally speaking, the five-year survival rate for patients who treat their melanoma within the first three stages (0 through 2) is about 98.4%. So, it is imperative for patients to be aware of the early signs of skin cancer and see their dermatologist regularly to receive regular skin evaluations. Doing so can literally be the difference between life and death.
The very thought of skin cancer can be frightening, leading some to ignore the warning signs, avoid routine skin cancer screenings, and/or neglect timely treatment. However, leaving your skin cancer undetected or untreated will only make matters worse, and over time, the window for effective treatment becomes more and more narrow. We must all take skin cancer seriously and understand not only how preventable this disease can be, but also how treatable it is. At Premier Dermatology Partners, we will continue to inform the public about skin cancer during and beyond Skin Cancer Awareness Month.
To learn more about our providers and all the services we offer, contact us today.