The Risks of Untreated Skin Cancer: Why Timely Treatment is Crucial

February 14, 2024

woman receiving a skin cancer exam

Skin cancer cases in the U.S. have increased in recent years, but with early detection, skin cancer is very treatable. According to Dr. Valerie Truong of U.S. Dermatology Partners in Dallas, Plano, and Corsicana, Texas, “While skin cancer diagnosis has increased in recent years, so has our knowledge of how to prevent and treat this serious skin health condition. As a dermatologist, I take great pride in helping my patients understand how they can prevent skin cancer as well as spreading the importance of monthly skin cancer self-exams to ensure early diagnosis and treatment.” In this blog, Dr. Truong reviews the types of skin cancer, how cancer progresses, and why it’s so important to receive an early diagnosis and treatment.

Types of Skin Cancer and Their Risks

There are numerous types of skin cancer, and they each develop differently when left untreated. You can learn a bit more about each of the main types and common skin cancer risks below:

  • Melanoma – While this is a less common form of skin cancer, it accounts for the majority of skin cancer-related deaths. This form of cancer typically develops out of new or existing moles. If you notice a mole that develops or changes quickly, itches, bleeds, or changes color, you should alert your dermatologist right away.
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma – While this form of skin cancer is less aggressive than melanoma, it can still grow and spread to other organs and the lymph nodes. Squamous cell carcinoma usually begins as a red, scaly patch of skin. Sometimes it can be itchy or painful, but most of the time, it is asymptomatic.
  • Basal Cell Carcinoma – This is a relatively common form of skin cancer that is typically very slow progressing. When it does progress, basal cell carcinoma lesions typically grow to cover a larger part of the skin and may be disfiguring. Basal cell carcinoma often looks like a skin-colored shiny or pearly bump on the skin.

Progression of Untreated Skin Cancer

To talk about the progression of cancer, oncologists use stages to easily communicate the spread of untreated cancer lesions. Basal cell carcinoma does not typically spread to other parts of the body, so it will not usually be assigned a stage. Melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma will usually be assigned a stage during diagnosis. The staging system for each type of cancer varies based on the features of the skin cancer.  The stage of cancer can be classified from stage 0 to 4 depending on how big and deep the cancer is and whether or not it has spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body.

Systemic Health Implications

Like other forms of cancer, Dr. Truong says, “The earlier the skin cancer is treated, the better. Earlier removal of skin cancer not only reduces the risk of having a larger scar and the risk of disfigurement, but can also reduce the risk of more aggressive growth and spread to other parts of the body (metastasis). Between the possible ill effects on skin and overall health, it’s truly essential that skin cancer is addressed as soon as possible.”

Mohs Surgery: An Effective Treatment

While there are many different approaches dermatologists and oncologists utilize to treat skin cancer, Mohs surgery is one of the most recommended. The purpose of this treatment is to carefully remove the damaged skin cells while preserving as much healthy tissue as possible. Traditional excision of skin cancer lesions can involve the removal of a great deal of healthy tissue to ensure all the cancer cells are removed. Dr. Frederick Mohs, for whom the surgery is named, innovated this specialized form of skin surgery by creating a process through which the surgeon removes the cancer and a small margin of healthy tissue. The Mohs surgeon examines the margin of each layer of tissue for skin cancer.  Once no cancer cells are seen, surgery is concluded. This increases the efficacy of treatment while preserving maximum healthy tissue and minimizing the cosmetic impact of surgery.

When to Consider Mohs Surgery

Mohs surgery has become one of the most often recommended treatments for skin cancer. While there are numerous reasons to choose this less invasive surgical solution, this skin cancer treatment is often recommended for:

  • Skin cancers that have a high risk of recurrence.
  • Lesions with poorly defined edges.
  • Large or quickly evolving lesions.
  • Patients have received more than one skin cancer diagnosis, have a history of skin cancer, or are otherwise at high risk.
  • To protect healthy skin and reduce impact on the cosmetic appearance of skin.
  • To treat sensitive areas like the eyes, ears, hands, feet, and genitals.

Prevention and Early Detection

When it comes to skin cancer, Dr. Tuong says, “Most skin cancers are caused by damage from sun exposure, and they are treatable if they are diagnosed and treated in early stages. Unlike other forms of cancer, that means the individual has a great deal of power over preventing skin cancer from occurring.” For skin cancer prevention, Dr. Truong recommends:

  • Keep sun exposure to a minimum, especially between 10 am and 4 pm.
  • Apply sunscreen every day to all areas of skin that are exposed to sunlight and reapply every few hours.
  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Choose a sunscreen with at least SPF 30.
  • Don’t use tanning beds.
  • Perform skin self-exams at least once a month. Make sure to look at the skin from the top of the head to the bottom of the feet and note any changes or irregularities.

Make Self-Exams & Annual Skin Cancer Screenings Part of Your Routine

Dr. Truong says, “People are used to their skin changing with age and weather and environment. While skin changes are common and often completely normal, they can also be the first indication of serious health concerns, including skin cancer. By performing regular self-exams and prioritizing annual professional skin cancer screenings, you can significantly reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. If something irregular is spotted, don’t wait to contact your dermatologist. Even if it turns out to be nothing, it’s always better to know for sure.”

Schedule a Skin Cancer Screening Appointment

Concerned about a skin lesion or want to learn more about Mohs surgery? Contact our expert team for a consultation and take the first step towards effective treatment. Whether you’re scheduling an annual skin cancer screening or skin cancer procedure, the U.S. Dermatology Partners team makes it quick and easy. Simply take a few moments to complete our online scheduling request form. Once a local team hears from you, they’ll reach out to finalize the details of your upcoming visit.

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