OakLeaf Medical Network Healthy Viewpoints, Winter 2003
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Joseph Rucker, MD, FACS

Skin Cancer

Joseph Rucker, MD, FACS, MD
Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery
Rucker & Merrick Plastic Surgery Clinic
Eau Claire

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States.  More than 500,000 new cases are reported each year and the incidence is rising faster than any other type of cancer.  While skin cancers can be found on any part of the body, about 80% appear on the face, head or neck. 



Ultraviolet radiation from exposure to the sun, as well as from artificial sources such as sun lamps and tanning booths, are probably responsible for the alarming rise in skin cancers.  Anyone can get skin cancer, no matter what your skin type, race or age. Your risk is greater if 1 your skin is fair and freckles easily, 2 you have light colored hair and eyes, 3 you have a large number of moles or moles of unusual size or shape, 4 you have a family history of skin cancer or personal history of blistering or sunburn, 5 you spend a lot of time outdoors, 6 you live closer to the equator, at a higher altitude or any place that gets intense year-round sunshine, and 7 you receive therapeutic radiation treatments for adolescent acne. 

The most common warning signs are a change in the appearance of the skin, such as a new growth or a sore that will not heal. 



The term skin cancer refers to three different conditions.  They range from the least to the most dangerous:

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type.  Fortunately, it is also the least dangerous, tends to grow slowly and rarely spreads beyond its original site.  Basal cell carcinoma is seldom life threatening, but if left untreated, it can grow deep into the underlying tissue and bone, causing serious damage.

Squamous cell carcinoma is the next most common, frequently appearing on the lips, face or ears.  It can spread to distant sites, including lymph nodes and internal organs.  It is important to realize that squamous cell carcinoma can be life threatening if not treated appropriately. 

Malignant melanoma is the most dangerous.  It is the least common, but its incidence is increasing. If discovered early, it can be completely cured.  If not treated quickly, malignant melanoma may spread throughout the body and is often deadly. 



Doctors can use radiation treatments for skin cancers occurring in areas which are difficult to treat with surgery.  Some physicians may use cryosurgery, which freezes the basal cell carcinoma with topical nitrogen. 

A third common method of treatment is Mohs micrographic surgery. This technique removes the skin cancer with microscopically controlled excision. This treatment is direct excision of the basal cell carcinoma and assurance of complete removal by pathological evaluation of the edges of the removed lesion in an immediate setting.  The defect left by removal of the cancer is then closed, usually by a plastic surgeon, with local soft tissue flaps in order to ensure minimal scarring. 



Avoiding sun exposure is the best way to lower the risk of skin cancer. It is recommended that susceptible individuals be mindful of any skin changes through self-examination and regular physician visits.

Follow common sense rules to protect against skin cancer:

• Limit sun exposure and avoid unprotected exposure during peak times: 10am-4:00pm.

• Wear broad rim hats and tightly woven protective clothing while outdoors. 

• Use waterproof or water resistant sunscreen with UVA protection and SPF 30 or higher. 

• Undergo regular check-ups and bring any suspicious lesions to the attention of your physician. 

• Avoid excessive use of tanning beds. 


For more information or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Rucker, call 715.833.2116 or 800.456.8222  or visit www.ruckermd.com. Dr. Rucker sees patients in Eau Claire, River Falls and Woodbury, MN.