Skin Cancer

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If you or someone you love is diagnosed with skin cancer, you need a team of experts who have experience identifying and treating it. Here, you’ll find a highly-skilled team that’s ready to work with you—and with one another—to develop a treatment plan that’s personalized to your unique diagnosis, needs and treatment goals. And since we are an accredited Comprehensive Community Cancer Program, you’ll have access to nearly all the same options and technology you’d find at an academic medical center, just close to home.

What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer, which is the most common type of cancer in the United States, develops in the skin’s cell layers—most often, but not always, starting on skin that’s exposed to the sun.

Most skin cancers begin in the squamous and basal cells of the skin. Others start in the melanocyte cells.

  • Basal cells are in the lower part of the epidermis. They constantly divide to form new cells to replace the shedding squamous cells. Basal cells get flatter as they move closer to the outer part of the epidermis, eventually turning into squamous cells.
  • Melanocyte cells are skin cells that make melanin, the brown pigment that gives skin its color.
  • Squamous cells are flat cells in the upper (or outer) part of the epidermis, which is the top layer of skin. Squamous cells are constantly shed as the body forms new cells.

Cells in the epidermis layer protect the deeper layers of the skin from the harmful effects of the sun.   

Skin Cancer Types

There are several types of skin cancer, categorized by the type of cell where disease develops. If you have skin cancer, it’s important to know which type you have because it can affect your treatment.  

Basal Cell Cancer

Basal Cell Cancer

Basal cell skin cancer starts in the basal cells and usually grows slowly. Although it’s rare for a basal cell cancer to spread, the disease can grow into nearby areas if left untreated. Also, if it’s not removed completely, basal cell cancer can come back in the same place on the skin.

Squamous Cell Cancer

Squamous Cell Cancer

Squamous cell skin cancers start in the flat, outer cells of the epidermis. They generally appear on areas exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck, ears, lips and backs of the hands. But sometimes, they develop in scars or chronic skin sores in other parts of the body. Squamous cell cancers are more likely than basal cell cancers to spread to other parts of the body.



Although it doesn’t occur nearly as much as basal or squamous cell cancer, melanoma can spread if it’s not caught—and treated—early. This type of skin cancer develops in the melanocyte cells.

Other, less common, types of skin cancer include:

  • Cutaneous (skin) lymphoma
  • Kaposi sarcoma
  • Merkel cell carcinoma
  • Several types of sarcoma
  • Skin adnexal tumors

Risk Factors for Skin Cancer

Since UV rays damage the DNA inside skin cells, exposure to the sun and ultraviolet (UV) light is the biggest risk factor for skin cancers. But there are other risk factors for skin cancer depending on the type.

Basal and Squamous Cell Skin Cancer

Basal and Squamous Cell Skin Cancer

For basal and squamous cell skin cancers, risk factors include:

  • Age, with risk increasing as you get older
  • Certain congenital conditions, such as basal cell nevus syndrome
  • Certain inherited conditions, such as xeroderma pigmentosum
  • Chronic skin inflammation or injury
  • Fair skin
  • Gender, with men more likely than women to develop the disease
  • Exposure to certain chemicals, including arsenic
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Past infection with human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Previous skin cancers
  • Smoking
  • Treatment for psoriasis, a chronic inflammatory skin condition
  • Weakened immune system



For melanoma, risk factors include:

  • Age, with risk increasing as you get older
  • Certain inherited conditions, such as xeroderma pigmentosum
  • Fair skin
  • Family history of melanoma
  • Gender, with men more likely than women to develop the disease
  • Moles on the body, either normal or abnormal
  • Previous melanoma or other skin cancers
  • Weakened immune system

Symptoms of Skin Cancer

Most skin cancers don’t cause problems until they grow, when they may itch, bleed or hurt. And symptoms can vary for each skin cancer type.

Basal and Squamous Cell Skin Cancer

Basal and Squamous Cell Skin Cancer

Basal and squamous cell skin cancers can appear as:

  • Flat, firm, pale or yellow
  • Growths that look like scars or warts
  • Open sores that won’t heal
  • Pink growths with raised edges
  • Raised, reddish patches
  • Small, shiny, pink or red bumps

See pictures of this Basal cell skin cancer and Squamous cell skin cancer from the American Academy of Dermatology Association.



Melanoma can appear as

  • Changed surfaces of moles
  • Itchiness, pain or tenderness
  • Sores that won’t heal
  • Unusual moles, lumps or other changes on the skin

When it comes to melanoma, use the ABCDE rule for moles:

  • Asymmetry: Half of the mole doesn’t match the other half
  • Border: Edges of the mole are irregular, ragged or blurred
  • Color: The mole is different colors or shades, with potential different-colored patches
  • Diameter: The mole is larger than 6 mm across
  • Evolving: The mole changes in size, shape or color

Diagnosing Skin Cancer

Most skin cancers are diagnosed when signs or symptoms prompt a visit to the doctor. If you have an area that might be skin cancer, we’ll examine it and perform tests, including:

  • Biopsy to test skin samples for signs of disease.
  • Dermoscopy to examine the skin more closely.
  • Physical exam to look at the size, shape and texture of the area.

Treating Skin Cancer

Most skin cancers can be successfully removed, especially if they're found early.

Treatment plans often include:

  • Chemotherapy: This type of treatment may be used if cancer has spread beyond the skin.
  • Immunotherapy: We may recommend immunotherapy, including immune checkpoint inhibitors that stimulate an immune response to fight disease, for skin cancers that aren’t effectively removed with other treatments.
  • Local treatments: For cancers that haven’t spread beyond the skin, we may use local treatments, including topical chemotherapy, laser surgery or chemical peeling. We also may use cryotherapy, when we apply liquid nitrogen to the tumor to freeze it off, for precancerous conditions.
  • Radiation therapy: We may use radiation therapy to treat skin cancers that are very large or in an area that’s hard to remove with surgery. We also may recommend it for patients who can’t have surgery or to help alleviate symptoms.
  • Surgery: The goal of surgery is to remove the cancer and some normal, surrounding tissue so the disease won’t come back. We may use different surgical techniques to treat skin cancer. Generally, which option we use will depend on the type of cancer, how large it is, where it is on the body and whether it’s spread.
  • Targeted therapy: In certain cases, we may recommend a targeted therapy drug, which targets gene changes.