Dictionary of Terms
- Actinic Keratosis – A small rough spot that most commonly occurs on chronically sun exposed skin such as the face, scalp, and back of the hands. Actinic keratoses are considered precancerous and if neglected may develop into a squamous cell carcinoma. Actinic keratoses may be treated with a variety of methods including cryosurgery, topical creams or laser therapy.
- Basal Cell Carcinoma – The most common form of skin cancer and is a tumor of the basal cells found in the epidermis (top layer) of the skin. It occurs most often on sun exposed areas of the body such as the ears, nose and cheeks, but can also arise on other skin surfaces. Basal cell carcinomas are locally invasive, meaning they will continue to grow and destroy the skin and surrounding structures where they arise. They do not typically metastasize or spread to other portions of the body.
- Benign – Not cancerous. Benign tumors do not have the ability to spread into the adjacent surrounding tissues or to other parts of the body.
- Biopsy – A representative sample taken from a larger skin lesion for the purpose of making a diagnosis. A biopsy is not a treatment but rather a diagnostic tool.
- Cryotherapy – A procedure that uses liquid nitrogen to destroy the top layer of skin by means of freezing. Cryotherapy is most commonly used in the treatment of actinic keratosis and warts.
- Epinephrine – A substance often used in conjunction with lidocaine for numbing of the skin. Epinephrine decreases bleeding at the surgical site and allows lidocaine to more effectively and more rapidly numb the treated area. In very rare instances patients may have temporary symptoms such as rapid heart rate and flushing in response to epinephrine.
- Hypertrophic Scar – A hypertrophic scar is a slight over-abundance of scar tissue at the site of healing after either a traumatic or surgical procedure. Certain areas of the body such as the shoulders and chest are more prone to form hypertrophic scars. Hypertrophic scars are most effectively treated with intralesional steroid injections.
- In Situ – A term used to describe a tumor that is entirely confined to its initial site of origin and has not invaded into neighboring tissues or structures. For example, a squamous cell carcinoma in situ is an early form of skin cancer where the cancer cells are completely contained within the epidermis (top layer of skin) and have not invaded into the deeper layers of the skin.
- Keloid – A sharply elevated, thickened scar at the site of trauma or surgical procedure. This is a more advanced and difficult to treat form of hypertrophic scarring.
- Lentigo – A type of freckle that is a small tan or brown spot which tends to be darker than the usual freckle and which does not fade in the winter. Lentigo or the plural, lentigines, most often occur on chronically sun exposed skin. They are benign skin growths.
- Lidocaine – The most common form of injected local anesthesia used in our office. Lidocaine works by blocking signals at the nerve ending responsible for transmitting pain signals to the brain. It is most often used in conjunction with epinephrine to maximize anesthetic effect.
- Malignant – Refers to cells or tumors that grow in an uncontrolled fashion. These cells or tumors may invade into and disrupt surrounding normal tissue and/or reach distant sites (metastasize) via the blood stream or lymphatic vessel system. By definition, cancers are always malignant and the term malignancy implies cancer.
- Melanocytes – A pigment producing cell found within the skin, hair and eye. Melanocytes produce a pigment call melanin that determines the color of our skin. Melanoma is a cancer of the melanocytes.
- Melanoma – A cancer of the melanocytes (a pigment producing cell) that is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Melanoma most commonly occurs in fair complected people at skin sites with chronic sun exposure but can potentially occur on any skin surface on people of all skin colors. A melanoma in situ is a cancerous melanoma that is completely confined to the outer layer (epidermis) of the skin. An invasive melanoma is a malignant tumor that has spread outside of the epidermis and invaded into surrounding deeper skin areas. Melanoma can metastasize (spread) to other portions of the body. Most melanomas present as a dark, growing, mole-like spot but the appearance of melanoma can be quite varied.
- Metastasis – The spread of cancer cells from one organ or body part to another area of the body. This movement or spread of tumor cells most commonly occurs through the blood vessel or lymphatic vessel systems.
- Nevus (mole) – A benign growth on the skin that represents a collection of melanocytes and surrounding skin tissue that usually appears as a tan or brown spot on the skin surface.
- Scar – A normal physiologic response to the healing of injured tissue. A scar is a normal process that allows the body to heal on exterior and interior levels of the skin after injury or surgery.
- Seborrheic Keratosis – A benign skin lesion resulting from excessive growth of the top layer of skin cells. Seborrheic keratoses are exceedingly common and can be found on almost all fair skinned individuals over the age of 50. They can appear as brown to black, heaped up, crusted spots and are often confused with moles. Seborrheic keratoses have no potential to become malignant (cancer).
- Squamous cell carcinoma – This is the second most common form of skin cancer and arises as a malignant growth of squamous cells in the epidermis (top layer) of the skin. Squamous cell carcinomas most commonly occur on chronically sun exposed skin surfaces such as the head and neck. Unlike basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma can rarely metastasize (spread) to other portions of the body. If they are detected and treated early they will most often result in a complete cure.