Skin Cancer

November 25, 2014 Providence Health Team

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in humans, affecting more than one million Americans every year. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their lives.

The good news is that skin cancers are generally curable if caught early. However, people who have had skin cancer are at a higher risk of developing a new skin cancer, which is why regular self-examination and doctor visits are imperative. 

The majority of skin cancers are composed of three different types:

  • Basal cell carcinoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Melanoma

Merkel cell carcinoma is rare but more common later in life.

Other cancers may migrate to the skin (cutaneous metastases), and some skin conditions arise (cutaneous paraneoplastic syndrome) when a cancer develops in another organ.

A dermatologist is the best physician to see if you are concerned you have skin cancer. At Providence Saint John’s your dermatologist has direct access to experienced pathologists who review cancer biopsies and tumor sites daily and work as a multi-disciplinary team with the Melanoma Oncology Center. Our experience successfully treating skin cancer is world-renowned.

Skin Cancer – Skin Metastasis

Skin metastasis (plural ‘metastases’) refers to growth of cancer cells on the skin originating from an internal cancer. In most cases, skin, or cutaneous, metastasis develops after the initial diagnosis of the primary internal malignancy (e.g. breast cancer, lung cancer) and often occurs late in the course of the disease. In very rare cases, skin metastasis may occur at the same time or before the primary cancer has been discovered and may be the prompt for further thorough investigation.

Skin metastasis may also occur from a skin cancer, usually melanoma.

Skin metastasis occurs when cancerous cells break away from the primary tumor and make their way to the skin through the blood or lymphatic system. Most malignant tumors can produce skin metastasis, but some are more likely to do so than others.

  • Melanoma – 45 percent chance of developing skin metastasis (but only 15 to 20 percent of melanomas metastasis, so the overall chance of a skin metastasis is about 7-10 percent)
  • Breast cancer – 30 percent
  • Nasal sinus cancers – 20 percent
  • Cancer of the larynx – 16 percent
  • Cancer of the oral cavity – 12 percent

The incidence of skin metastasis varies but is somewhere between three to 10 percent in patients with a primary malignant tumor.

What are the symptoms of skin metastases?

The first sign of skin metastasis is usually a firm, round or oval, non-painful nodule. The nodules are rubbery, firm or hard in texture and vary in size from barely noticeable lesions to large tumors. These may be skin colored, red, or in the case of melanoma, blue or black. Sometimes multiple nodules appear rapidly. The overlying skin may break down and ulcerate.

If you’re at risk for developing skin metastasis, please come see us for a complete skin exam. Our office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday at 310-449-5265.

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