Skin Cancer & Melanoma

Coping with skin cancer and melanoma can be extremely challenging. At the La Jolla Dermatology and Laser Surgery Center, we understand the grief that accompanies the diagnosis of skin cancer. As part of the medical dermatological treatments we offer at our clinic, we offer treatment for skin cancer and melanoma.

What is Basal Cell Carcinoma?

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) or Basal Cell Cancer is the most common type of skin cancer. When it first appears on the skin it may look just like a pimple, but unlike pimples Basal Cell cancers continue to grow and eat away at the tissue. It commonly looks like a shiny, pink or skin colored growth that bleeds and scabs easily. Although it is unlikely to spread to other organs, if left untreated it can invade and destroy vital structures such as bone and nerves.

With years of sun exposure, the UV rays that hit the skin can cause the genetics (DNA) of your skin cells to become damaged. The DNA of these cells is what dictates how your skin cells grow. Therefore, by altering the DNA through UV radiation, the cells can start to grow rapidly and irregularly turning into cancer cells such as Basal Cell Carcinomas.

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Detecting Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal Cell cancers can be detected by a trained dermatologist through a skin exam. A skin biopsy is taken of the suspicious cells and the diagnosis is confirmed through a microscope exam. The doctor first numbs the area and takes a scrape of the tumor. The cells are then sent to a lab for processing and a dermatopathologist will look at the cells under the microscope and provide a report on the tumor.

Treatment for Basal Cell Carcinoma

Treatment of these tumors depends on the stage of the tumor, the location, and the type of Basal Cell cancer. Essentially, the cancer cells must be removed entirely from your skin with the least amount of scarring. The earlier the detection, the better the outcome for scarring. Some of the most common treatments include:

  • Excision
  • Mohs Surgery
  • Chemotherapy or Immunotherapy using a topical medication
  • Electrodessication and Curettage
  • Laser Surgery
  • Radiation
  • Cryotherapy

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous Cell Carcinoma is a common skin cancer that arises from the squamous cells in the outer skin layers. This type of skin cancer is mainly caused by years of sun exposure. These cancers may appear as a lump or a sore on the skin and can oftentimes be sensitive or painful. Early SCCs can appear as a scaly red rough spot. If left untreated, Squamous Cell skin cancers can spread to the lymph node and metastasize to other organs, although they are not as aggressive as melanomas.

Precursors to this type of skin cancer is called an Actinic Keratosis, and they serve as breeding grounds for developing Squamous Cell Carcinomas. Therefore, it’s important to remove actinic keratosis from the skin, at least reduce them in number, in order to reduce the chances of developing Squamous Cell skin cancers.

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Detecting Squamous Cell Carcinomas

The best method for detecting Squamous Cell carcinomas is to have regular skin exams by a board-certified dermatologist . Early detection and treatment are key elements in avoiding long term battles with this potentially aggressive skin cancer. During your skin exam, if a skin spot is determined to be suspicious for Squamous Cell carcinoma, your dermatologist will recommend a skin biopsy to confirm or rule out this type of skin cancers. It is also important to determine whether your skin is forming actinic keratosis, which are the precursors of Squamous Cell cancers. If your skin has these precancers forming, then they need to be regularly treated or reduced in number in order to reduce your chances of developing Squamous Cell Carcinomas.

Treatment for Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Treatment of these tumors depends on the type, high risk vs low risk, as well as the stage and level of invasion. Early SCCs may be treated with laser surgery, however, invasive and deeper Squamous Cell cancers must be treated surgically in a timely manner to avoid the cancer cells from spreading to lymph nodes. Different treatment options may include:

  • Excision
  • Mohs Surgery
  • Chemotherapy or Immunotherapy
  • Electrodessication and Curettage
  • Laser Surgery
  • Radiation

What is melanoma?

Melanoma is the third most common type of skin cancer and the most dangerous form of skin cancer. If left untreated, it can spread to other organs, making it more difficult to treat and ultimately deadly. The cancer results from the abnormal growth of melanocytes, the skin cells that make pigment in the basal layer of the epidermis. These cells become cancerous when their DNA accumulates damage triggering genetic defects, often caused by UV radiation from excessive sun exposure or tanning beds. This leads to the cells dividing rapidly and forming malignant tumors.

Research shows that an estimated 87,110 cases of invasive melanoma were diagnosed in the United States in 2017. Although these statistics sound frightening, it’s important to keep in mind that with early detection and timely care and treatment, melanomas can be cured. Early detection of melanomas in the skin with early administration of treatment often times lead to cure. It is important to remove the cancer cells from the skin before the tumor cells have a chance to metastasize. Dr. Azadeh Shirazi is a well recognized skin cancer specialist. She has spent a large part of her career specializing in melanoma detection and treatment in addition to other types of skin cancer. Her experience, in-depth knowledge, and artistry ensure that you are given the best of care and the most aesthetic cosmetic results.

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Detecting melanoma

Melanoma exhibits certain manifestations which are indicative of the presence of cancer. Some of the common signs and symptoms you need to look out for are:

  • Moles and marks that appear during adulthood
  • Abnormally shaped and colored moles (including those that change color, shape, and size)
  • Marks and moles with irregular or jagged edges
  • Sores on the skin which do not heal
  • Abnormal pigmentation on the skin
  • Sudden lumps or bumps under the skin
  • Scaling and bleeding of moles and birthmarks
  • Itching, tenderness, and pain in moles and birthmarks

It is important to perform self-skin exams monthly to get to know your skin by regularly looking at your moles and skin spots. Look for any changes in your existing moles and pay attention to new moles and growths on your skin. If you notice any or a combination of these symptoms on your body or a loved one’s, be sure to visit a board-certified dermatologist immediately.

Treating melanoma through focused dermatological treatments

Melanoma and skin cancer can be treated in multiple ways:

  • Immunotherapy: In this treatment, the patient’s own immune system is encouraged to fight and kill the cancer cells. This can be done through stimulation of the immune system or the administration of specialized proteins in the body.
  • Chemotherapy: This is one of the most common methods of treating cancer. Chemotherapy drugs are introduced into the body in pre-decided quantities to kill cancer cells and prevent them from spreading.
  • Radiation therapy: High-intensity radiation will be directed towards the tumors, to shrink their size and destroy tumor cells. The radiation can be external, from a laser machine or internal, through radiation implants placed near the tumors.
  • Targeted therapy: Highly-specialized drugs are injected into the body, specifically into the targeted areas, to slow down the spread of cancerous tumors and to destroy cancerous cells.
  • Surgery: This is the most common procedure for melanoma. This procedure involves the surgical resection of the tumor and the tissues surrounding the tumor. The objective is to remove the cancer cells and the surrounding skin that may contain cancer from the body in order to cure the cancer and prevent the cancer cells from spreading to other organs.

Choosing the right treatment

When selecting a treatment method, it is important to take these factors into consideration:

  • Your age
  • Your health
  • The severity of your condition
  • The potential side effects and allergies
  • The likelihood of a positive outcome through the chosen treatment

These factors will help you understand which treatment is best suited for your condition.

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Surgical resection

Melanomas are treated surgically and the choice of surgery depends on multiple factors, such as location, stage, and type of melanoma. After a detailed evaluation of your condition, Dr. Shirazi will determine the type of surgery and additional treatment that may be required. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the treatment, please don’t hesitate to ask the doctor.

Before starting the treatment, the doctor will examine and evaluate your health. She will then mark the areas of the tumor that need to be cut out and will create a surgical plan to suit your condition. During the surgery, the cancerous area of the skin to be resected is marked, and the tumor is then excised along with its surrounding tissue. The skin is then sutured in a cosmetic fashion to minimize scarring.

Based on your medical requirements, the doctor will also create a personalized post-surgical treatment plan which will include the necessary medication, tests, scans, and follow-up visits to help you recover quickly, with the least possible discomfort.

Post-surgical recovery

Bleeding, swelling, and pain right after the surgery are common, but generally resolve in a few days after the surgery. Tenderness, bruising and scarring are also common, but these will reduce in the weeks post-surgery.

Patients are advised to reduce their activity level and rest as much as possible. Lifting of heavy items is prohibited and it is advised to limit the sun exposure on the surgical site for several weeks after the surgery. Melanoma often occurs in sun exposed areas, and therefore protecting the scar from the sun will help minimize your scarring. Certain scar treatments are recommended starting 2 weeks after your surgery.

Reconstruction and rejuvenation of damaged skin

Skin cancer can ruin the appearance of your skin. The scars can become reminders of the pain and difficulties you experienced during your treatment, making your journey towards emotional healing more challenging. It is possible to significantly improve residual scars, blemishes, and growths through various laser treatments and skin reconstruction techniques.

At La Jolla Dermatology and Laser Surgery Center, our team of medical professionals can outline and perform skin reconstruction treatments to help correct these marks and enhance your skin’s appearance.

Often times, by using surrounding healthy tissue from your own skin, the doctor will perform a skin flap or skin graft for the repair of the skin damaged by cancer cells or and melanoma. We also use state-of-the-art lasers to improve and minimize post-surgical scars. If you do not wish to go under the knife, you can choose non-invasive laser treatments to address your scars. Now you no longer have to deal with constant reminders of your pain and suffering.

We accept insurance for our skin cancer treatments and skin reconstruction surgeries. Please speak to our team if you’d like more information about our financing options.

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