Skin Cancer Care at Willamette Valley Cancer

treating melanoma skin cancer at willamette valley - wvci

Skin cancer develops on the outer layer of the skin (epidermis). The most common cause is overexposure to UV light, including sunlight and artificial UV light from tanning beds. But even areas that haven’t been overly exposed can develop skin cancer. Learn more about symptoms and risk factors of skin cancer.

If the dermatologist diagnoses skin cancer deep in the skin layers or it has spread to nearby areas of the body, additional treatment from an oncologist will be needed. If you've been diagnosed with skin cancer, our oncologists in the Willamette Valley and on the Oregon Coast are here to consult with you.

Types of Skin Cancer

The two most common types of skin cancer are non-melanoma and melanoma. There are some other less common skin cancers that can appear as well.

Knowing your type is important because it affects the kind of treatment you will receive.

Learn about the primary types of skin cancer:

Should You Meet With an Oncologist After a Skin Cancer Diagnosis?

The type of skin cancer and how far it grew into the layers of skin will play a significant role in what happens next. For some patients, especially those with small non-melanoma skin cancers, the dermatologist can take care of it entirely.

Melanoma and more advanced non-melanoma skin cancers often require additional treatments to keep the cancer from recurring in that area. An oncologist is a cancer specialist who works with your dermatologist to determine what else is recommended in a skin cancer treatment plan.

The skin cancer specialists at Willamette Valley Cancer are here to help you determine the best next steps. We have put together this guide to help you prepare for the skin cancer treatment process.

What You Need to Know About Skin Cancer & Treatment Options

We recommend reviewing this section’s important information about a skin cancer diagnosis, staging, and treatment options as you prepare for your first appointment. If additional treatment is needed, it’s best to consult with an oncologist who specializes in skin cancer.

Diagnosing Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is usually detected by a dermatologist who notices an abnormal area on the skin. However, there’s no way to know if it’s cancerous until it’s biopsied. A biopsy involves removing and testing a suspicious area and is the only sure way to diagnose skin cancer.

A biopsy to remove the area of skin can often be done in the dermatologist’s office and may be the only treatment needed. However, if it seems like more cancer cells are remaining, the dermatologist may refer you to an oncologist. 

Staging Melanoma skin cancer - wvci

Staging Skin Cancer

If the biopsy confirms a diagnosis of skin cancer, additional tests are run to determine the extent of the cancer. This process, known as staging, helps your dermatologist know if additional treatments may be needed by an oncologist. The oncologist uses that information to form a plan that will make recurrence less likely.

Skin Cancer Treatments

Most patients have had some surgery to remove the skin cancer before seeing an oncologist. Skin cancer treatment afterward can take several directions. Your dermatologist and oncologist will work with you to determine the best treatment plan for you, considering your stage and overall health.

skin cancer patient consulting with skin oncologists on best treatment plan - will it include radiation therapy? WVCI answers

Non-Melanoma Skin Cancers

Basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer are the two most common types of skin cancer. These cancers often develop on the head, face, neck, hands, and arms, which are areas frequently exposed to the sun.

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)

BCCs are abnormal, uncontrolled growths or lesions that arise in the skin’s basal cells, which line the lowest layer of the epidermis, called the basal cell layer. This type of cancer grows slowly and can be effectively treated when caught early. 

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

Squamous cell skin cancer occurs due to the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the upper layers of the skin (epidermis). The common cause of this type of skin cancer is prolonged exposure to the sun, but it can also occur in areas that do not get sun exposure. Although squamous cell skin cancer is usually not life-threatening, if left untreated, it can spread to lymph nodes and other organs in the body, leading to severe complications. 

Melanoma Skin Cancer

Melanoma starts in skin cells called melanocytes, which are found between the dermis and epidermis. This type of skin cancer is much less common than non-melanoma cancers but is the most serious since it is more likely to spread if not caught early. Melanoma can develop anywhere on the skin, but it is more likely to develop on the chest, back, legs, neck, and face. It often resembles moles.

Lesser Known Skin Cancers

Melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma account for 99% of all skin cancer cases. However, you should be aware of other forms of skin cancer.

Merkel Cell Carcinoma (MCC)

MCC is a rare, aggressive skin cancer that primarily occurs on sun-exposed skin, such as the head and neck, arms, legs, and trunk. This type of skin cancer usually appears as a firm, painless lump on the skin. MCC is a fast-growing cancer, so it can be hard to treat if it spreads to areas beyond the skin.

Kaposi Sarcoma (KS)

Kaposi sarcoma is caused by the human herpesvirus-8 (HHV-8) and develops from the cells that line lymph or blood vessels. It can appear on the skin as a darkish or purple-colored tumor/lesion or on the inside of the mouth. These lesions often do not cause symptoms, but they can metastasize (spread). People who have weakened immune systems due to certain diseases or drugs given after an organ transplant are at a higher risk of developing Kaposi sarcoma.

Types Of Kaposi Sarcoma

Kaposi sarcoma is named after the populations it's present in; however, the changes within the KS cells are all very similar. The different types of KS include:

  • Epidemic (AIDS-related) Kaposi sarcoma
  • Classic (Mediterranean) Kaposi sarcoma
  • Endemic (African) Kaposi sarcoma
  • Latrogenic (transplant-related) Kaposi sarcoma
  • Kaposi sarcoma in HIV-negative men who have sex with men

Lymphoma of the Skin

Lymphoma is a cancer that starts in the lymphocytes–white blood cells that are vitally important in the functioning of the immune system. While lymphoma commonly involves the lymph nodes, it can begin in other lymphoid tissues, such as the spleen, bone marrow, and the skin. The two main types of lymphomas are Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Lymphomas that originate only in the skin are called skin lymphoma (or cutaneous lymphoma).

Signs & Symptoms of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer often begins with the appearance of a new spot on the skin or a change in the shape, size, or color of an existing mole. Melanoma can occur on normal-looking skin, too, so it is crucial to get familiar with the signs and symptoms of skin cancer and your skin. Regularly examining your skin can help you discover any abnormal changes. Be sure to get examined by your doctor or dermatologist immediately if you find anything suspicious. Early diagnosis of melanoma increases the chances of successful treatment.

Risk Factors Associated With Skin Cancer and Reducing Your Risk

Risk factors vary for different types of skin cancer. Some of these factors can be controlled, while others can’t. You have no control over your physical traits or family history of skin cancer. Still, you can lower your risk by making better lifestyle choices, including avoiding excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, which is the primary cause of skin cancer and melanoma. 

If you notice any suspicious or concerning changes or growths on your skin, speak with your doctor as soon as possible. If your doctor suspects skin cancer, they may recommend further examination and testing. The earlier the cancer is detected and treated, the better the chances of a successful cure. 

Scheduling an Appointment with a Skin Cancer Oncologist in the Willamette Valley

At Willamette Valley Cancer Institute and Research Center, skin cancer specialists will work together to determine the best treatment options based on your specific type of skin cancer and your lifestyle. In the meantime, remember to protect yourself while you’re outside by wearing sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and even long sleeves. It goes a long way to reduce your risk of developing additional skin cancers. We know it’s important for you to get good information and choose the best treatment, so we’re here to help when you’re ready to discuss the next steps.

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