Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the U.S., with more than 3 million cases diagnosed every year. While most forms of skin cancer are treatable and curable if caught early enough, often times the treatment involves removing the tumor from the body, which can lead to disfigurement. The deformity can be most upsetting when it occurs on the face, which just so happens to be the site of the majority of skin cancers.
Removing skin cancer from the body is the first step in saving a patient’s life. The next step is giving him or her that life back by performing reconstructive surgery to make the face look as much like it once did as possible.
Types of Skin Cancer
Three types of skin cancer are the most common in the US, according to the National Cancer Institute. The two most common forms of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell. Melanoma is the most dangerous type of cancer, but also happens to be the most rare. In many cases, skin cancer develops as a result of exposure to ultraviolet light, but it can also develop on areas of the body with limited or no sun exposure.
Each form of skin cancer looks slightly different. For example, melanoma forms in the melanocytes, or pigment cells of the skin. In the early stages, a melanoma may look like a mole, only the mole changes in size, shape and color with time.
Basal cell carcinoma develops in the basal layer of cells, found in the epidermis. The cancer usually resembles an open sore or scar and is often red or pink in color. The least deadly form of cancer, basal cell carcinoma is more likely to develop on sun-exposed areas, such as the face. While it is unlikely to cause significant medical harm, it can cause severe disfigurement.
Squamous cell carcinomas form in the top layer of epidermal cells. The growths are often scaly and can resemble warts or crusty sores. It can look as though a person has a wound that just won’t heal. While fully treatable if caught early, a squamous cell carcinoma can metastasize, or spread to the body’s other organs, if not treated in time.
Removing and Repairing
Surgical removal is the most common form of treatment for the majority of skin cancers. Every effort is made to fully remove the cancer. Some techniques strive to remove all of the cancer cells while leaving as much healthy skin as possible intact. Even if the surgery to remove the cancer leaves much of the skin intact, reconstructive surgery may still be needed to help a patient feel confident in his or her appearance.
While a surgeon will do his or her best to make patients look as much like their old selves as possible, it’s important to understand going into the procedure that that may not be possible. The goal of reconstructive surgery is to give the patient as much of a normal appearance as possible. There may be some scarring in the treated area, but most surgeons will do their best to make the scars as invisible as they can be.
The specific surgical technique used depends on a number of factors. If the cancer was large and a sizable portion of the face or underlying area was affected, the surgeon may need to transfer skin, muscle or even bone from one area of the body to the surgical area.
As with any facial plastic surgery, your health is an important consideration before skin cancer reconstruction. While in some cases the procedure is performed right after the tumor is removed, if your surgeon determines you aren’t in good enough health, you may be asked to wait. During that time, you’ll be told to stop smoking and will most likely be limited in the medications you can take.
After the Surgery
You’ll want to take good care of the area after your surgery, to help keep scarring to a minimum and to help speed healing. There will most likely be swelling, which will be most visible a few days after the procedure, then will start to go down. Avoid submerging the surgical site in water for a week or so after the procedure. Your surgeon will give you instructions for cleaning the area.
In many cases, patients are able to go back to work within a week or two. Your surgeon will most likely recommend that you continue to take it easy and avoid exercise or other physical activity for a few more weeks.
No one wants to hear that they have skin cancer. But, the treatment options available, combined with reconstructive facial surgery, mean that you can quickly get back to normal.
Learn more about your options for reconstructive surgery after a skin cancer diagnosis by contacting Dr. Michael Schwartz in West Palm Beach, Florida. You can schedule a consultation with Dr. Schwartz by calling 561-228-5888 today.