Skin cancer is one of the most common of all cancers in the United States. Prevention is key, but detecting skin cancer in its early stages is essential to receiving effective treatments and a positive outcome. Learning more about skin cancer can help you recognize changes and seek medical assistance quickly. Let’s discuss which types of skin cancer occur more frequently than others, the risk factors that raise your chance of developing them, and what Medicare benefits may help diagnose and treat the disease.
Understanding Different Types of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer begins in the actual cells of the skin. While other cancers may spread to the skin, these are not considered to be skin cancers due to their nature and origin. The American Cancer Society notes there are three common types of skin cancer:
- Basal cell carcinomas. Cancer in the cells of the lower epidermis grow slowly and, when untreated, can invade other tissue or bone nearby.
- Squamous cell carcinomas. Cancer in the cells of the outer epidermis is more likely to spread into deep layers of the skin and other parts of the body.
- Melanomas. Cancer in the pigmented cells of the skin can grow and spread quickly when left untreated.
These types of skin cancer are less common and, when combined, make up less than 1% of all skin cancer diagnoses:
- Skin adnexal tumors. This cancer begins in the hair follicles and glands of the skin.
- Cutaneous lymphoma. A type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that begins in the lymphoid tissue of the skin.
- Merkel cell carcinoma. Cancer that develops in a nerve or hormone-making cell is typically considered a Merkel cell, or neuroendocrine, carcinoma.
- Soft tissue sarcomas. Most soft tissue sarcomas are very rare, but this class of skin cancer refers to any variety of sarcoma that develops in tissues like muscle, nerves, blood vessels, fat or other parts of the epidermis.
Appropriate diagnosis is necessary in order to choose the right treatment for skin cancer. If you experience symptoms of any type of skin cancer, your doctor will examine your skin and evaluate which tests should be ordered to confirm a diagnosis. In certain cases, your primary care physician may refer you to a dermatologist or oncologist for specialized care.
Risk Factors for Developing Skin Cancer
According to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, exposing yourself to ultraviolet (UV) light remains the biggest risk factor for developing any of the most common types of skin cancer. The impact of UV exposure is cumulative, which means that the frequency and intensity of your exposure to UV light add up over the years.
Comparatively, individuals with pale complexions have a greater risk of skin cancer than those with darker skin tones. A family history of skin cancer or genetic conditions that negatively impact the skin’s ability to repair itself can also increase your risk. Age, lifestyle choices (like smoking or using tanning beds), exposure to carcinogenic chemicals and having certain health conditions, such as Gorlin syndrome or human papillomavirus, can also increase your chances of developing skin cancer.
Common Skin Cancer Treatments
If you’ve been diagnosed with skin cancer, your current health and the type of skin cancer you have will determine which treatment your doctor recommends. Standard treatments options include certain surgical procedures that can range from surface excisions to dermabrasion, as well as radiation therapy, chemotherapy or immunotherapy. Targeted therapies that work directly on the cancerous tumors rather than the entire body can include chemical peels, photodynamic laser therapy or certain topical drugs.
Medicare Coverage for Skin Cancer Treatment
Medicare Part A and Part B may help cover your diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer. Part A (Hospital Insurance) helps cover care and services you receive when you are formally admitted into a Medicare-approved hospital, and may include surgery and nursing care medically necessary to treat your skin cancer. Part B (Medical Insurance) can help cover the cost of preventive services and medically necessary care at a doctor’s office or in an outpatient setting. Part B can help pay for screenings and exams that may diagnose – or rule out – skin cancer.
Depending on your specific diagnosis and treatment options, Medicare coverage can help lower your out-of-pocket expenses. If you need chemotherapy or radiation, Part A will cover these treatments if you have cancer and you are a hospital inpatient. Part B covers chemotherapy and radiation if you get your treatment in a hospital outpatient setting, in a doctor’s office or in a freestanding clinic.
If your doctor prescribes medication to take orally at home, Medicare Part D may cover the costs of the medications. If you have Original Medicare, you can enroll in a stand-alone Prescription Drug Plan (PDP), or you can enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan with prescription drug coverage (MA-PD). Each PDP and MA-PD can have its own formulary, or list of covered drugs, so check with your plan to make sure your medications are covered. Costs can vary from plan to plan.