Skin Cancer

Potential Side Effects

The side effects you may experience will depend on the part of the body being treated, the amount of radiation you are given, and whether or not you have received chemotherapy. Ask your doctor before treatment begins about possible side effects and how best to manage them. Most side effects go away once you finish treatment.

  • You may experience very few or no side effects and can continue your normal routine during treatment.
  • You may notice mild skin irritation, upset stomach, hair loss, sore throat, loose bowel movements, nausea and fatigue.

Tell your doctor or nurse if you experience any discomfort during treatment. They may be able to prescribe medication or change your diet to help.

External Beam Radiation Therapy

External beam radiation therapy involves a series of daily outpatient treatments to accurately deliver radiation to the prostate.
There are two principal methods for delivering external beam radiation.

  • 3-dimensional conformal radiotherapy (3D-CRT) combines multiple radiation treatment fields to deliver precise doses of radiation to the prostate. Tailoring each of the radiation beams to accurately focus on the patient's tumor allows coverage of the prostate cancer while at the same time keeping radiation away from nearby organs such as the bladder or rectum.
  • Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is the most recent advance in the delivery of radiation. IMRT improves on 3D-CRT by modifying the intensity of the radiation within each of the radiation beams. This technique allows more precise adjustment of radiation doses to the tissues within the target area, potentially allowing an increased radiation dose to the prostate and reduced doses to nearby normal tissues. Higher doses to the prostate translate into a greater chance for cure, while lower doses to surrounding organs mean fewer side effects.

Both types of external beam radiation therapy are acceptable treatment; IMRT offers advantages for some but not all prostate cancer patients. With either type of therapy, painless radiation treatments are delivered in a series of daily sessions, each under half-hour in duration, Monday through Friday for seven to ten weeks overall.

Potential side effects, including fatigue, increased frequency or discomfort of urination, and loose stools, typically resolve within a few weeks after completing treatments. Impotence is also a potential side effect of any treatment for prostate cancer. However, many patients who receive radiation therapy for prostate cancer are able to maintain sexual function.

General Risk Factors For Skin Cancer

There are many risk factors for developing skin cancer ranging from sun exposure to moles to family history:

  • Exposure to ultraviolet rays and sunburn: People who have experienced prolonged exposure to sunlight and tanning booths are at an increased risk to develop skin cancer. The amount of exposure depends on the intensity of the light, length of time the skin was exposed, and whether the skin was protected with either clothing or sunscreen. In addition, severe sunburn in childhood or teenage years can increase the risk of skin cancer.
  • Skin coloring/pigmentation: People with fair skin are 20 times more likely to develop skin cancer than people with darker skin. Caucasian people with red or blonde hair and fair skin that freckles or burns easily are at the highest risk. People with darker pigmentation can also develop skin cancer, more likely on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, under the nails or inside the mouth.
  • Moles: Individuals with moles may be at increased risk of developing melanoma, especially if the moles are unusual, large or multiple.
  • Family history: Risk of developing melanoma is higher if one or more members of a person's immediate family have been diagnosed.
  • Immune suppression: People who have illnesses affecting their immune system (such as HIV) or who are taking medicines to suppress their immune system (such as after an organ transplant) are at an increased risk of skin cancer.
  • Occupational exposure: Individuals exposed to coal tar, pitch, creosote, arsenic compounds or radium are at increased risk to develop skin cancer.

Facts About Skin Cancer

  • More than 1 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancers will be diagnosed in the United States this year. These cancers can usually be cured.
  • Nearly 60,000 cases of melanoma are diagnosed annually. Nearly 5,000 men and 2,900 women will die from the disease this year.
  • Skin cancer usually occurs in adults but can sometimes affect children and teenagers.

About Skin Cancer

The skin is the body's largest organ. Its job is to protect internal organs against damage, heat and infection. The skin is also the most exposed organ to sunlight and other forms of harmful ultraviolet rays. There are three major types of skin cancer.

  • Basal cell carcinoma: The most common form of skin cancer. These cancers begin in the outer layer of skin (epidermis).
  • Squamous cell carcinoma: The second most common type of skin cancer. These cancers also begin in the epidermis.
  • Melanoma: The most serious skin cancer, it begins in skin cells called melanocytes that produce skin color (melanin).

If caught and treated early, most skin cancers can be cured. Be sure to talk to your doctor about anything unusual on your skin.

About Skin Cancer

Signs Of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer can be detected early and it is important to check your own skin on a monthly basis. You should take note of new marks or moles on your skin and whether or not they have changed in size or appearance.

The American Cancer Society's "ABCD rule" can help distinguish a normal mole from melanoma:

  • Asymmetry: The two halves of a mole do not match.
  • Border irregularity: The edges of the mole are ragged and uneven.
  • Color: Differing shades of tan, brown or black and sometimes patches of red, blue or white.
  • Diameter: The mole is wider than a quarter inch in size.

The American Cancer Society recommends a skin examination by a doctor every three years for people between 20 and 40 years of age and every year for anyone over the age of 40.

Diagnosing Skin Cancer

If initial test results show abnormal skin cells, your doctor may refer you to a skin specialist called a dermatologist. If the dermatologist thinks that skin cancer may be present, a biopsy, or sample of skin from the suspicious area, will be checked for cancer.

There are three types of biopsies to test for skin cancer.

  • Shave biopsy: The doctor "shaves" or scrapes off the top layers of the skin with a surgical blade.
  • Punch biopsy: This type removes a deeper skin sample with a tool that resembles a tiny cookie cutter.
  • Incisional and excisional biopsies: For an incisional biopsy, a surgeon cuts through the full thickness of skin and removes a wedge for further examination. An excisional biopsy is when the entire tumor is removed.

Other tests such as a chest X-ray, CT scan or MRI may be used to see if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Treating Skin Cancer

The treatment you receive depends on several factors including your overall health, stage of the disease and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of your body. Treatments are often combined and can include:

  • Radiation therapy where the cancer cells are killed by X-rays.
  • Surgery where the cancer cells are cut out and removed.
  • Electrodessication where the cancer is dried with an electric current and removed.
  • Cryosurgery where the cancer is frozen and removed.
  • Laser surgery where the cancer cells are killed by laser beams.
  • Chemotherapy where the cancer cells are attacked by a drug that is either taken internally or applied on the skin.
  • Photodynamic therapy where the cancer is covered with a drug that becomes active when exposed to light.
  • Biologic therapy where doctors help your immune system better fight the cancer.

Understanding Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy, also called radiotherapy, is the careful use of radiation to treat many different kinds of cancer.

  • Cancer doctors, called radiation oncologists, use radiation therapy to try to cure cancer, to control cancer growth or to relieve symptoms such as pain.
  • Radiation therapy works within cancer cells by damaging their ability to multiply. When these cells die, the body naturally eliminates them.
  • Healthy cells that grow and divide quickly are also harmed by radiation, but they are able to repair themselves in a way cancer cells cannot.