Insight into detection, prevention, and treatment
What is skin cancer?
How is skin cancer diagnosed?
Am I at risk for skin cancer?
The skin is the largest organ in our body. It provides protection against heat, cold, light, and infection. The skin is made up of two major layers (epidermis and dermis) as well as various types of cells. The top (or outer) layer of the skin-the epidermis-is composed of three types of cells: flat, scaly cells on the surface called squamous cells; round cells called basal cells; and melanocytes, cells that provide skin its color and protect against skin damage. The inner layer of the skin-the dermis-is the layer that contains the nerves, blood vessels, and sweat glands.
What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer is a disease in which cancerous (malignant) cells are found in the outer layers of your skin. There are several types of cancer that originate in the skin. The most common types are basal cell carcinoma (70 percent of all skin cancers) and squamous cell carcinoma (20 percent). These types are classified as nonmelanoma skin cancer. Melanoma (5 percent of all skin cancers) is the third type of skin cancer. It is less common than basal cell or squamous cell skin cancer, but potentially much more serious. Other types of skin cancer are rare.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. It typically appears as a small raised bump that has a pearly appearance. It is most commonly seen on areas of the skin that have received excessive sun exposure. These cancers may spread to the skin around the cancer but rarely spread to other parts of the body.
Squamous cell carcinoma is also seen on the areas of the body that have been exposed to excessive sun (nose, lower lip, hands, and forehead). Often this cancer appears as a firm red bump or ulceration of the skin that does not heal. Squamous cell carcinomas can spread to lymph nodes in the area.
Melanoma is a skin cancer (malignancy) that arises from the melanocytes in the skin. Melanocytes are the cells that give color to our skin. These cancers typically arise as pigmented (colored) lesions in the skin with an irregular shape, irregular border, and multiple colors. It is the most harmful of all the skin cancers, because it can spread to other sites in the body. Fortunately, most melanomas have a very high cure rate when identified and treated early.
What causes skin cancer?
Most skin cancers occur on sun-exposed areas of our skin, and there is a lot of scientific evidence to support UV radiation as a causative factor in most types of skin cancer. Family history is also important, particularly in melanoma. The lighter your skin type, the more susceptible you are to UV damage and to skin cancer.
How is skin cancer diagnosed?
The vast majority of skin cancers can be cured if diagnosed and treated early. Aside from protecting your skin from sun damage, it is important to recognize the early signs of skin cancer.
Skin sores that do not heal,
Bumps or nodules in the skin that are enlarging, and
Changes in existing moles (size, texture, color).
If you notice any of the factors listed above, see your doctor right away. If you have a spot or lump on your skin, your doctor may remove the growth and examine the tissue under the microscope. This is called a biopsy. A biopsy can usually be done in the doctor's office and usually involves numbing the skin with a local anesthetic. Examination of the biopsy under the microscope will tell the doctor if the skin lesion is a cancer (malignancy).
How is skin cancer treated?
There are varieties of treatments available, including surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy, to treat skin cancer. Treatment for skin cancer depends on the type and size of cancer, your age, and your overall health.
Surgery is the most common form of treatment. It generally consists of an office or outpatient procedure to remove the lesion and check edges to make sure all the cancer was removed. In many cases, the site is then repaired with simple stitches. In larger skin cancers, your doctor may take some skin from another body site to cover the wound and promote healing. This is termed skin grafting. In more advanced cases of skin cancer, radiation therapy or chemotherapy (drugs that kill cancer cells) may be used with surgery to improve cure rates.
Am I at risk for skin cancer?
People with any of the factors listed below have a higher risk of developing skin cancer and should be particularly careful about sun exposure.
Long-term sun exposure
Fair skin (typically blonde or red hair with freckles)
Place of residence (increased risk in southern climates)
Presence of moles, particularly if there are irregular edges, uneven coloring, or an increase in the size of the mole
Family history of skin cancer, particularly melanoma
Use of indoor tanning devices
Severe sunburns as a child
Nonhealing ulcers or nodules in the skin.
How can I lower my risk of skin cancer?
The single most important thing you can do to lower your risk of skin cancer is to avoid direct sun exposure. Sunlight produces ultraviolet (UV) radiation that can directly damage the cells (DNA) of our skin. People who work outdoors are at the highest risk of developing a skin cancer. The sun's rays are the most powerful between 10 am and 2 pm, so you must be particularly careful during those hours. If you must be out during the day, wear clothing that covers as much of your skin as possible, including a wide-brimmed hat to block the sun from your face, scalp, neck, and ears.
The use of a sunscreen can provide protection against UV radiation. When selecting a sunscreen, choose one with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 or more. For people who live in the Southern U.S., a SPF of 30 or greater should be used during summer and when prolonged exposure is anticipated. Sunscreen should be applied before exposure and when the skin is dry. If you will be sweating or swimming, most sunscreens will need to be reapplied. Sunscreen products do not completely block the damaging rays, but they do allow you to be in the sun longer without getting sunburn.
It is also critical to recognize early signs of skin trouble. The best time to do self-examination is after a shower in front of a full-length mirror. Note any moles, birthmarks, and blemishes. Be on the alert for sores that do not heal or new nodules on the skin. Any mole that changes in size, color, or texture should be carefully examined. If you notice anything new or unusual, see your physician right away. If you have a strong family history of skin cancer, particularly melanoma, an annual examination by a physician skilled at diagnosing skin cancer is recommended. Catching skin cancer early can save your life.
Ultraviolet index: What you need to know
The new Ultraviolet (UV) index provides important information to help you plan your outdoor activities and avoid overexposure to the damaging rays of the sun. Developed by the National Weather Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, the UV index is issued daily as a national service.
The UV index gives the next day's amount of exposure to UV rays. The index predicts UV levels on a 0 to 10+ scale (see chart).
Always take precautions against overexposure, and take special care when the UV index predicts exposure levels of moderate to above (5 to 10+).
Index number Exposure level
0 - 2minimal
3 - 4low
5 - 6moderate
7 - 9high
Laryngeal cancer is not as well known by the general public as some other types of cancer, yet it is not a rare disease. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2005 almost 10,000 new cases of laryngeal cancer will be diagnosed, and close to 3,800 people will die from laryngeal cancer in the United States. Even for survivors, the consequences of laryngeal cancer can be severe with respect to voice, breathing, or swallowing. It is fundamentally a preventable disease though, since the primary risk factors for laryngeal cancer are associated with modifiable behaviors.
Risk Factors Associated With Laryngeal Cancer
Development of laryngeal cancer is a process that involves many factors, but approximately 90 percent of head and neck cancers occur after exposure to known carcinogens (cancer causing substances). Chief among these factors is tobacco. Over 90 percent of laryngeal cancers are a type of cancer called squamous cell carcinoma (SCCA), and over 95 percent of patients with laryngeal SCCA are smokers. Smoking contributes to cancer development by causing mutations or changes in genes, impairing clearance of carcinogens from the respiratory tract, and decreasing the body's immune response.
Tobacco use is measured in pack-years, where one pack per day for one year is considered one pack-year. Two pack-years is defined as either one pack per day for two years, or two packs per day for one year (Longer terms of pack years are determined using a similar ratio.) Depending upon the number of pack-years smoked, studies have reported that smokers are about 5 to 35 times more likely to develop laryngeal cancer than non-smokers. It does seem that the duration of tobacco exposure is probably more important overall to cancer causing effect, than the intensity of the exposure.
Alcohol is another important risk factor for laryngeal cancer, and acts as a promoter of the cancer causing process. The major clinical significance of alcohol is that it potentiates the effects of tobacco. Magnitude of this effect is between an additive and a multiplicative one. That is, people who smoke and drink alcohol have a combined risk that is greater than the sum of the individual risks. The American Cancer Society recommends that those who drink alcoholic beverages should limit the amount of alcohol they consume, with one drink per day considered a limited alcohol exposure.
Other risk factors for laryngeal cancer include certain viruses, such as human papilloma virus (HPV), and likely acid reflux. Vitamin A and beta-carotene may play a protective role.
Signs and Symptoms of Laryngeal Cancer
Signs and symptoms of laryngeal cancer include: progressive or persistent hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, persistent sore throat or pain with swallowing, difficulty breathing, pain in the ear, or a lump in the neck. Anyone with these signs or symptoms should be evaluated by an Otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose and Throat Doctor). This is particularly important for people with risk factors for laryngeal cancer.
Treatment of Laryngeal Cancer
The primary treatment options for laryngeal cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these treatments. Remember that this is a preventable disease in the vast majority of cases, because the main risk factors are associated with modifiable behaviors. Do not smoke and do not abuse alcohol!
PEDIATRIC THYROID CANCER
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland located at the base of the throat. It has two lobes separated in the middle by a strip of tissue (the isthmus). The thyroid itself secretes three main hormones: (1) Thyroxine contains iodine, needed for growth and metabolism; (2) Triiodothyronine, similar in function to Thyroxine, effects body size, tissues growth, and function: and (3) Calcitonin, which decreases the concentration of calcium in the blood and increases calcium in the bones. All three of these hormones have an important role in your child's growth.
Thyroid cancer is the third most common tumor malignancy in children. It occurs six times more often in females than males and shares several characteristics with adult thyroid cancer patients. Surgery is the preferred treatment for this cancer and although the procedure is often uncomplicated, one of the risks of thyroid surgery involves vocal cord paralysis. Consequently, an otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon should be consulted.
Types of thyroid cancer in children:
Papillary: This form of thyroid cancer occurs in cells that produce thyroid hormones containing iodine. This type, the most common form of thyroid cancer in children, grows very slowly.
Follicular: This type of thyroid cancer also develops in cells that produce thyroid hormones containing iodine. The disease afflicts a slightly older age group and is less common in children. This type of thyroid cancer is more likely to spread to the neck via blood vessels causing the cancer to spread to other parts of the body, making the disease difficult to control.
Medullary: This rare form of thyroid cancer develops in cells that produce calcitonin, a hormone that does not contain iodine. This cancer tends to spread to other parts of the body and constitutes about 5-10 percent of all thyroid malignancies. Medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC) in the pediatric population is usually associated with multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN2), an inherited genetic form of the cancer.
Anaplastic: This is the fastest growing of the thyroid cancers, with extremely abnormal cells that grow and spread rapidly, especially locally in the head and neck region. This form of cancer usually is found in older patients.
The symptoms of this disease vary. Your child may have a lump in the neck, continuous swollen lymph nodes, a tight or full feeling in the neck, and/or trouble with breathing or swallowing, hoarseness.
If any of these symptoms occur, consult your child's physician for a diagnosis. The diagnosis could consist of a head and neck examination to determine if unusual lumps are present; a blood test to indicate how the thyroid is functioning; a sonography, which uses high-frequency sound waves and a computer to create an image of the thyroid gland; a radioactive iodine scan, which provides information about the thyroid shape and function, identifying areas in the thyroid that do no absorb iodine in the normal way; fine needle biopsy, removal for study of a small part of the tumor; and surgery, where a procedure known as a thyroid lobectomy, necessitates removal of the lobe of the thyroid gland that contains the tumor, for analysis.
Treatments for thyroid cancer:
If the tumor is found to be malignant then surgery is used to remove as much of the tumor as possible either by lobectomy or subtotal thyroidectomy (removal of at least one thyroid lobe and up to a near-total removal of the thyroid gland). If necessary, the otolaryngologist- head and neck surgeon may remove the entire thyroid, in a procedure called a total thyroidectomy. Surgery may be followed by radioactive iodine therapy which destroys cancer cells that are left after surgery and help prevent the disease from returning Thyroid hormone therapy may need to be administered throughout your child's life when he/she has had surgery to remove the thyroid followed by radioactive iodine treatment to replace normal hormones and slow the growth of cancer cells. If cancer has spread to other parts of the body, chemotherapy, the treatment of disease by means of chemical substances or drugs, may be given. This therapy interferes with the cancer cell's ability to grow or reproduce. Different groups of drugs work in different ways to fight cancer cells and shrink tumors. In general, treatment outcomes for this type of cancer in children tend to be excellent. The best outcome is achieved with teenage girls, papillary type cancer, and a tumor localized to the thyroid gland.
Source: National Cancer Institute "Populationbased Outcomes for Pediatric Thyroid Carcinoma," by Nina L. Shapiro MD, and Neil Bhattacharyya MD, Laryngoscope. 2005 Feb;115(2):337-40.
PEDIATRIC HEAD AND NECK TUMORS
Tumors or growths in the head and neck region may be divided into those that are benign (not cancerous) and malignant (i.e., cancer). Fortunately, most growths in the head and neck region in children are considered to be benign. These benign growths can be related to infection, inflammation, fluid collections, swellings, or neoplasms (tumors) that are non life-threatening. The malignant growths, on the other hand, may be life-threatening and cause other problems related to their growth and spread. Even the malignant growths in the head and neck are usually treatable.
It is very common for children to have enlarged tonsils and adenoids. These are almost always from an infection or inflammation. It is very rare that children develop a cancer, lymphoma, or sarcoma of these areas. When the tonsils, adenoids, or other areas of the mouth or throat remain enlarged or are enlarged on only one side, it is important to have an evaluation by a specialist in ear, nose and throat or otolaryngology-head and neck surgery.
The lymph nodes of the neck region may become enlarged during childhood. Most of the time, this is reactive in nature and related to inflammation or infection. However, if the lymph nodes remain enlarged for a period of time without going away, it is important to have an otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon evaluate the problem.
Other benign growths in the face and neck include cysts (fluid collection) such as branchial cleft cyst, thyroglossal duct cyst, cystic hygroma, and dermoid cysts. These often require removal due to their continued growth and potential for infection. Growths of blood vessels often are seen in the face and neck and these are often referred to as hemangiomas, vascular malformations, lymphatic and arteriovenous malformations (AVM). Some of these may require removal or treatment depending upon the type and location.
Sinus and Nose Growths
Although most children have nose bleeds and occasional allergies and sinus infection, sometimes tumors of the nose and sinus present with similar symptoms. It is generally recommended that a child with continuous sinus problems or nose bleeds be evaluated by an otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon to be sure it is not a tumor or other treatable condition.
Non-epithelial neoplasms constitute the majority of sinonasal (sinus) tumors in children and adolescents. Among these, rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) or undifferentiated sarcoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma account for the majority of cases. Among head and neck RMS 14 percent arise from the nasal cavity and 10 percent from the paranasal sinuses. Nasopharyngeal carcinoma accounts for one third of the nasopharyngeal neoplasms in children. As is the case in adult patients, it is associated with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection as demonstrated by EBV DNA presence in malignant cells. Less frequently, Ewing's sarcoma/PNET can present in this location. These tumors have also been described as secondary malignancies following treatment of retinoblastoma and other neoplasms. Esthesioneuroblastoma is a rare sinonasal tumor historically related to Ewing/PNET, although more recently comparative genomic hybridization analysis disputes this relation. Other less common sinonasal tumors presenting in children include hemangioma and hemagiopericitoma, fibroma and fibrosarcoma, malignant fibrous histiocytoma, and desmoid fibromatosis.
Salivary Gland Tumors
There are three paired sets of salivary glands in the head and neck region. These include the ones in front of the ears (parotid), below the jaw (submandibular), and underneath the tongue (sublingual). Additionally, there are numerous very small salivary glands throughout the mouth and throat. Although tumors can arise in these areas, they are rare. Thus, any child with a growth in these areas should be seen by an otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon.
The thyroid gland is found in the front of the lower part of the neck just above the chest area but below the Adam's apple on both sides. Although tumors can arise in this area, they are rare. Thus, any child with a growth in this area should be seen by an otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon.
HEAD AND NECK CANCER
Insight into recognizing symptoms for early detection
Early detection of head and neck cancer
Symptoms of head and neck cancer
More than 55,000 Americans will develop cancer of the head and neck (most of which is preventable) this year; nearly 13,000 of them will die from it.
Early detection of head and neck cancer
Tobacco use is the most preventable cause of these deaths. In the United States, up to 200,000 people die each year from smoking-related illnesses. The good news is that this figure has decreased due to the increasing number of Americans who have quit smoking. The bad news is that some of these smokers switched to smokeless or spit tobacco, assuming it is a safe alternative. This is untrue. By doing this, they are only changing the site of the cancer risk from their lungs to their mouth. While lung cancer cases are down, cancers in the head and neck appear to be increasing. Cancer of the head and neck is curable if caught early. Fortunately, most head and neck cancers produce early symptoms. You should know the potential warning signs so you can alert your doctor as soon as possible. Remember-successful treatment of head and neck cancer depends on early detection. Knowing and recognizing the signs of head and neck cancer can save your life.
Symptoms of head and neck cancer
A lump in the neck ...Cancers that begin in the head or neck usually spread to lymph nodes in the neck before they spread elsewhere. A lump in the neck that lasts more than two weeks should be seen by a physician as soon as possible. Of course, not all lumps are cancer. But a lump (or lumps) in the neck can be the first sign of cancer of the mouth, throat, voicebox (larynx), thyroid gland, or of certain lymphomas and blood cancers. Such lumps are generally painless and continue to enlarge steadily.
Change in the voice ...Most cancers in the larynx cause some changes in voice. An otolaryngologist is a head and neck specialist who can examine your vocal cords easily and painlessly. While most voice changes are not caused by cancer, you shouldn't take chances. If you are hoarse or notice voice changes for more than two weeks, see your doctor.
A growth in the mouth ...Most cancers of the mouth or tongue cause a sore or swelling that doesn't go away. These sores and swellings may be painless unless they become infected. Bleeding may occur, but often not until late in the disease. If an ulcer or swelling is accompanied by lumps in the neck, be concerned. Your dentist or doctor can determine if a biopsy (tissue sample test) is needed and can refer you to a head and neck surgeon who can perform this procedure.
Bringing up blood ...This is often caused by something other than cancer. However, tumors in the nose, mouth, throat, or lungs can cause bleeding. If blood appears in your saliva or phlegm for more than a few days, you should see your physician.
Swallowing problems ...Cancer of the throat or esophagus (swallowing tube) may make swallowing solid foods difficult. Sometimes liquids can also be troublesome. The food may "stick" at a certain point and then either go through to the stomach or come back up. If you have trouble almost every time you try to swallow something, you should be examined by a physician. Usually a barium swallow x-ray or an esophagoscopy (direct examination of the swallowing tube with a scope) will be performed to find the cause.
Changes in the skin ...The most common head and neck cancer is basal cell cancer of the skin. Fortunately, this is rarely serious if treated early. Basal cell cancers appear most often on sun-exposed areas like the forehead, face, and ears, but can occur almost anywhere on the skin. Basal cell cancer often begins as a small, pale patch that enlarges slowly, producing a central "dimple" and eventually an ulcer. Parts of the ulcer may heal, but the major portion remains ulcerated. Some basal cell cancers show color changes. Other kinds of cancer, including squamous cell cancer and malignant melanoma, also occur on the head and neck. Most squamous cell cancers occur on the lower lip and ear. They may look like basal cell cancers and, if caught early and properly treated, usually are not dangerous. If there is a sore on the lip, lower face, or ear that does not heal, consult a physician. Malignant melanoma classically produces dense blue-black or black discolorations of the skin. However, any mole that changes size, color, or begins to bleed may mean trouble. A black or blue-black spot on the face or neck, particularly if it changes size or shape, should be seen as soon as possible by a dermatologist or other physician.
Persistent earache ...Constant pain in or around the ear when you swallow can be a sign of infection or tumor growth in the throat. This is particularly serious if it is associated with difficulty in swallowing, hoarseness or a lump in the neck. These symptoms should be evaluated by an otolaryngologist.
Identifying high risk of head and neck cancer
As many as 90 percent of head and neck cancers arise after prolonged exposure to specific factors. Use of tobacco (cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, or snuff) and alcoholic beverages are closely linked with cancers of the mouth, throat, voice box, and tongue. In adults who do not smoke or drink, cancer of the mouth and throat is nearly nonexistent. Prolonged exposure to sunlight is linked with cancer of the lip and is also established as a major cause of skin cancer.
What you should do ...All of the symptoms and signs described here can occur with no cancer present. In fact, many times complaints of this type are due to some other condition. But you can't tell without an examination. So, if they do occur, see your doctor to be sure.
Remember: When found early, most cancers in the head and neck can be cured with little difficulty. Cure rates for these cancers could be greatly improved if people would seek medical advice as soon as possible. Play it safe. If you detect warning signs of head and neck cancer, see your doctor immediately.
Be safe: See your doctor early and practice health habits which help prevent these diseases.