Facts About Skin Cancer
The skin is your body’s largest organ, but also the most exposed. With the crucial job of protecting our internal organs from damage, the elements, and other threats to our body, we need to do everything that we can to protect it.
Unfortunately, our skin is exposed to harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun every day, which puts us at high risk of developing skin cancer. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, more than one million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancers and 73,870 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the United States this year, making it the most common cancer. At its current rate of development, one in every five people will be diagnosed with some type of skin cancer in their lifetime.
At Southeast Radiation Oncology Center, we’re committed to fighting cancer and helping our patients achieve a healthier, happier future by utilizing advanced technology and cancer treatment methods. If you are seeking treatment for skin cancer, just contact us and schedule an appointment.
TYPES OF SKIN CANCER
Skin cancer can occur in many forms, which can develop in different areas of the body, look different, and have different effects on the body. The most prevalent types of skin cancer include:
1. Basal cell carcinoma: This is the most common form of skin cancer, and is very curable. This cancer begins in the outer layer of skin (epidermis) and rarely spreads to other parts of the body.
2. Squamous cell carcinoma: The second most common type of skin cancer. This cancer also begins in the epidermis. Radiation therapy can be used to treat squamous cell cancers that start on the skin and sometimes nearby lymph nodes with or without surgery.
3. Melanoma: The is less common, but is also the most serious skin cancer; it begins in skin cells called melanocytes that produce skin color (melanin).
4. Merkel cell carcinoma: A rare skin cancer that develops between the dermis and epidermis.
TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR SKIN CANCER
The key to a fast and successful recovery is finding the right treatment method to treat your cancer. Which cancer treatment you receive depends on several factors, including your overall health, the stage of the disease and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of your body. After an initial examination, your doctor will create a personalized treatment plan, discussing the treatment options available to you. Your doctor will also check to see if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in patients with some types of squamous cell cancer and melanoma.
There are many options available to treat skin cancer. Your physician may choose to use radiation therapy, brachytherapy, surgery, chemotherapy, or other treatments, alone or in combination.
If you have any questions about any of these treatment methods mentioned above, just contact your local cancer treatment center, and we’ll be more than happy to help you get the information you need.
UNDERSTANDING RADIATION THERAPY
Radiation therapy, also known as radiotherapy, is the careful use of radiation to treat many different kinds of cancer including skin cancers. Radiation oncologists use highly advanced machines that utilize high-energy particles or waves such as X-rays, gamma rays or electron beams to target cancer cells, altering their DNA and causing them to die off. While some healthy cells may also be hit by the radiation, they have the ability to repair themselves over time.
Most radiation cancer therapy is given with an external beam, targeting only the region of the body that has the cancer cells to reduce the amount of healthy cells damaged. A typical treatment session with radiation therapy is completely painless and only lasts a few minutes. Radiation treatment can also be given with a radioactive source close to the skin with a treatment called brachytherapy.
Brachytherapy is a form of radiation where the radiation source is placed very close to the skin cancer. This form of radiation can be applied to the tumor using metal applicators, a series of tubes, or a flap of beads that conforms to the skin (Freiburg flap). When high-dose-rate (HDR) treatments are given, treatments are usually scheduled two days per week instead of each day. Long-term studies following patients who have received brachytherapy show that this form of radiation is very effective in treating skin cancer and the vast majority continue to remain cancer free many years after treatment. In general, the cosmetic outcome with HDR brachytherapy is excellent and recovery time is minimal.
POTENTIAL SIDE EFFECTS OF RADIATION TREATMENT
The side effects you might feel will depend on the part of your body being treated, the dose of radiation given and whether you also receive other treatments like chemotherapy. Before treatment begins, ask your doctor about possible side effects and how you can best manage them.
Talk to your doctor or nurse about any discomfort you feel. He or she may be able to provide medications or other treatments to help.
CARING FOR YOURSELF DURING TREATMENT
• Get plenty of rest during treatment.
• Follow your doctor’s orders. Ask if you are unsure about anything or if you have questions about your treatments and side effects.
• Tell your doctor about any medications or vitamins you are taking, to make sure if they’re safe to use during radiation therapy.
• Eat a balanced diet. If food tastes funny or you’re having trouble eating, tell your doctor or dietician. They will work with you to help you make changes in your diet.
• Keep very well hydrated by drinking eight, 8 oz, glasses of fluid daily. Gelatin, broth, sherbet, etc. are all considered to be part of your fluid intake.
• Treat the skin exposed to radiation with special care. Stay out of the sun, avoid hot or cold packs, and only use lotions and ointments after checking with your doctor or nurse. When cleaning the area, use only water and a mild soap.
• Battling cancer is tough. Don’t be afraid to ask friends, family, support groups and your radiation oncology team for help.
SKIN CANCER RESOURCES
Melanoma International Foundation
Melanoma Research Foundation
Skin Cancer Foundation
Also see Helpful Links
*Content provided by the American Society for Radiation Oncology, www.rtanswers.org, and the American Cancer Society.