Skin Cancer Overview
Wellstar Health System provides superior care for skin cancer, offering a comprehensive spectrum of top-notch physicians, treatment options and diagnostic tools. In addition Wellstar offers innovative advances in the fight against skin cancer, including:
- Advanced dermatologists who specialize in skin cancer and who practice state-of-the-art care.
- A wide spectrum of diagnostic and interventional treatments—including ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), PET/CT imaging.
- Surgeons who specially trained to remove the melanoma and assess the extent of spread with a sentinal lymph node biopsy.
- A radiation therapy department with state-of-the-art equipment and therapies.
- A Tumor Board, comprised of a multidisciplinary team that meet regularly to review complex cases.
- Clinical trials - making novel therapies available to patients.
Skin cancer begins in melanocytes, cells that produce the pigment melanin, which gives skin its color. Skin cancer often begins in a mole, and is most curable when caught before it has spread to underlying skin tissue and lymph nodes, so it is very important to be aware of moles on your body and watch for changes.
Since sun exposure and tanning beds are believed to increase risk for the disease, sun exposure should be limited and tanning beds avoided. Both cause premature aging of the skin and place it at greater risk for cancer.
Skin cancers can occur under fingernails and toenails and also on the bottom of the feet. They also can occur in the eye and, much more rarely, in the intestines or spinal cord. The vast majority of melanomas, however, occur on the skin.
- Change in a mole.
- A new mole, especially one that looks different from previous moles.
It is important to look for the "ABCDE's" of any previous or new mole. Wellstar dermatologists recommend paying special attention to these characteristics of moles, which have been identified by the American Academy of Dermatology:
- A for Asymmetry - both halves of a mole should be similar.
- B for Border - moles should have regular borders. Irregular borders are common in melanomas.
- C for Color, or changes in color - an existing mole that changes color should be checked out.
- D for Diameter - look for any new growth in a mole larger than an inch.
- E for Evolving - watch for changes in a mole over time. A mole that itches or one that hardens should be brought to the attention of your Wellstar physician.
- Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, such as from the sun or tanning beds.
- Having fair skin, light colored eyes, or both.
- Having been baldy sunburned at an early age.
- Family history of melanoma.
- Weakened immune system.
- Having more than 50 moles.
- Having a type of mole that is large and has irregular colors.
- Living near the equator or at a very high elevation.
Skin Cancer Prevention
Wellstar supports scientific research that shows certain lifestyle choices can lower a person's risk of some cancers. Because skin cancer is linked in many cases to UV exposure, Wellstar strongly urges people to avoid tanning beds and sun exposure during the brightest part of the day. If you must be out, then use sun block with an SPF of 15 and wear protective clothing such as a hat and a long-sleeved shirt.
Tests and Screenings
Because moles are visible to the naked eye, it's recommended that Wellstar physicians screen their patients annually. During a skin evaluation, your Wellstar physician will look for suspicious moles. That includes those that have irregular borders; appear to have grown from the previous year; bleed or ooze; are uneven or asymmetrical; or whose color is darker or different from other moles on your body.
In addition, you and your partner or a close friend can look for suspicious moles on your body, following the "ABCDE" tips for moles. You can look on your face, torso, arms, hands, feet and legs, but you will need the help of another person to examine your scalp, back, and the backs of your arms and legs. Don't forget to look under finger nails and toenails and between toes. If you find a mole that looks questionable, see a doctor. Because survival rates for early-stage skin cancer are so much better than they are for later-stage disease, it is essential to catch it in an early stage.
Skin Cancer Diagnosis
When skin cancer is diagnosed, your Wellstar physician will categorize it by its current stage. The stage describes how large the tumor is and whether the cancer has spread to other groups of lymph nodes and to distant sites within the body.
Skin Cancer Treatment
Once cancer has been detected, biopsied and categorized by stage your team of specialists in dermatology, surgery, medical and radiation oncology, radiology and pathology will work together to plan the best course of treatment for your melanoma.
This will include formulating a coordinated plan of personalized treatment consistent with the highest standards of care. Your treatment will be tailored to the stage of skin cancer you have, and may include a combination of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and the use of drugs known as biological agents.
A very small melanoma may be entirely removed during the biopsy. More often, surgery to remove the melanoma will be performed. Your Wellstar surgeon also may remove a small amount of skin underlying the melanoma. If the melanoma has not spread to nearby lymph nodes or other tissue, this may be all the treatment that is required.
If the melanoma has spread to nearby lymph nodes, surgery must be more involved, as the affected lymph nodes will have to be removed.
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs given by mouth or injection to destroy cancer cells. It can be used to assist in the treatment of melanoma or to prolong life or the quality of life.
Chemotherapy is typically used for melanoma patients whose cancer has spread to other sites.
Other options for treatment include immune modulators such as interferon or newer targeted therapies such as BRAF inhibitors.
Radiation therapy uses high-powered beams of energy to kill cancer cells. This kind of therapy is often used to treat symptoms of other organs affected by melanoma.
Ongoing Care for Skin Cancer
After your recovery from melanoma surgery, you will be referred to Wellstar's medical oncology team for treatment, surveillance and survivorship programs. These comprehensive programs focus on diet, exercise and nutrition to help you reduce the risk of recurrence.
Cancer care at Wellstar is more than advanced technology, clinical research, and highly specialized physicians and nurses. It includes an array of supportive care services to improve the patient experience before, during and after treatment. All of these services are available within the Wellstar system, including:
- Counseling services for individuals, couples and families.
- Nutrition services, which allow cancer patients to stay strong through treatment and eat healthier foods that lower cancer risk.
- Physical therapy centers, which allow many rehab options and lymphedema therapy.
- Smoking cessation programs, which offer support to patients who need to come off cigarettes and nicotine. Special services are offered to those who have made prior attempts.
- Retail stores that offer wigs, mastectomy bras and other cancer support products.
- Genetic counseling services, which offer patients and family members who are at high risk to be tested for genetic abnormalities after meeting with a certified genetic counselor.
- Health Place, which offers programs for cancer patients to regain strength and fight fatigue after chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Palliative Care and Hospice
Wellstar's certified palliative care physicians and certified registered nurses are dedicated to providing compassionate, quality care in various settings, including home hospice, inpatient hospice nursing homes, assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Wellstar offers caring and compassionate hospice care for patients and their families in one of Georgia's oldest hospice programs serving Bartow, Cherokee, Cobb, Douglas and Paulding counties.