Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the United States. It occurs when mutations develop in the skin cells, causing them to grow uncontrollably, forming a mass of cancer cells.
Skin Malignancies Affecting the Head and Neck
Melanoma and nonmelanoma cancer are skin cancer types that affect the head and neck. Between the two, nonmelanoma cancer is the most common.
Squamous and basal cell carcinoma are the most frequent pathologic types of nonmelanoma skin cancer.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
It’s the most aggressive type of skin malignancy and may require extensive surgery, depending on the location of cancer and how extensive is the nerve involvement.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
This is the most common type of nonmelanoma skin cancer. It’s rarely fatal but can be aggressive.
Causes and Risk Factors
The biggest risk factor for the development of skin malignancies of the head and neck is the cumulative amount of exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR). UVR with a wavelength range of 290 to 320 nm is considered to be the most carcinogenic.
Other risk factors that can contribute to the development of nonmelanoma cancer include radiation exposure, use of tanning beds, and use of immunosuppressive medications (commonly used by transplant patients).
Skin malignancies of the head and neck appear as abnormal growths on the skin. The abnormal growths may look like a wart, ulcer, mole, or crusty spot. These spots may bleed and could be painful.
If you notice any unusual growth on your skin or any changes in a mole (i.e. irregular border, color, shape, or presence of bleeding), please don’t hesitate to see a skin specialist immediately. Treatment outcome is better if skin cancer is detected and treated in its early stages.
Prevention and Treatment
The best way to prevent skin cancer of the head and neck is to protect yourself from the harmful UV rays. You can do this by always wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen (even on days when it appears to be cloudy), seeking shade when the sun is at its hottest (usually between 10 AM and 4 PM), and avoiding the use of tanning beds.
Treatment options for skin cancer vary, depending on its stage. Early stages may qualify for Mohs surgery, a procedure that only removes cancer and leaves the adjacent normal cells.
When there is already a nerve or lymph node involvement, treatment may require a more extensive surgery plus another form of treatment. It can be radiation or chemotherapy.