What is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, almost 5.5 million skin cancers are diagnosed in the United States every year, and that number appears to be steadily rising. It is estimated that 93% to 97% of all skin cancer occurs on highly visible parts of the body such as the head, face, ears, neck, hands, and arms. It is easy to understand why this is the case, considering the fact that these parts of the body typically receive the most sun exposure. About one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime.
The areas around the eyes, on the eyelids, or near the brows are surprisingly common places for people to develop skin cancers (See Figure 2 below). According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “skin cancers of the eyelids…account for 5% to 10% of all skin cancers [on the entire body].” Of the skin cancers that are diagnosed on the eyelids, 95% of these tumors are basal cell carcinomas or squamous cell carcinomas.”
The good news about skin cancer, in general, is that early detection of most forms (while the cancer is still in its localized stage) can mean a near 99% survival rate. The survival rate drops steadily in proportion to how deep and how far the cancer has spread at the time of detection, so regular screenings are very important.
What Are the Signs of Skin Cancer?
Skin cancers can sometimes present as a distinct lump or bump in the area surrounding the eyes. However, there can sometimes be more subtle signs of irregular tissue growth that may signify the growth of skin cancer in the affected area. Some of these other signs can include: areas of crusting, irregular pigmentation, areas of bleeding or ulceration, scar formation, changes to the normal eyelid architecture, loss of lashes or irregular lash growth, and/or the appearance of notching of the eyelid margin. In rare cases, skin cancers can also sometimes masquerade as more common eyelid conditions such as blepharitis, chalazia (styes), or other benign-appearing lesions. For these reasons, any irregular growth in the areas of the face surrounding the eyes should be thoroughly examined by an oculofacial plastic surgeon, such as Dr. Lewen. Any lesions in this area will typically be photographed. In cases where there is a lower suspicion for skin cancer, areas may be observed over a period of time for any significant changes that may suggest growth or malignancy.
The definitive way to diagnose skin cancer is by biopsy. Very often, this can be done as a simple procedure in the office with little or no downtime. In cases of higher suspicion for skin cancer, a biopsy will be recommended to be performed and the specimen will be promptly sent to the lab for microscopic evaluation and diagnosis. After your lab result has returned, if there is a skin cancer present in the affected area, Dr. Lewen will review your treatment options in-depth at the time of your visit.