Skin Cancer

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. Skin cancer is cancer that develops on the skin and occurs when skin cells grow abnormally.

What are the different types of skin cancer?

There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are more common than melanoma.

Basal cell carcinoma forms in the base of the epidermis, or the outer layer of skin. Squamous cell carcinoma forms in the squamous cells, which make up the skin's surface.

Melanoma is less common than basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, but can be more dangerous. Melanoma forms in the melanocytes, or the cells that make the pigment melanin. Melanoma often begins in a mole, but it can also form in other areas of the body, such as the eye or the intestine.

What are the symptoms of skin cancer?

The symptoms of skin cancer can vary, depending on the type of cancer. The most common symptom of basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma is a change in the skin, such as the appearance of a new growth, a change in an existing growth or a sore that won't heal.

The signs of melanoma are different. The signs of melanoma are changes to an existing mole. This can include:

  • Asymmetry
  • Irregular border
  • Uneven color
  • Change in size

If symptoms indicate a possible diagnosis of skin cancer, a physician will usually recommend a physical examination and a biopsy of the skin cells.

What are the causes and risk factors of skin cancer?

The risk factors for skin cancer vary by type. Common risk factors associated with all types of skin cancer include:

  • Family history
  • Skin that burns easily
  • Lifetime sun exposure
  • Severe sunburns
  • Tanning using outdoors or using tanning beds or sunlamps

Factors that commonly increase the risk of melanoma include:

  • Dysplastic nevus moles
  • 50+ common moles on the body

Factors that commonly increase the risk of basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas include:

  • Old scars or burns on the skin
  • Skin inflammation
  • Arsenic exposure
  • Radiation therapy exposure
  • HPV

How is skin cancer treated?

Treatment for skin cancer depends on the size, type, depth and location of the cancer. Surgery to remove the growth may be the only treatment necessary. Further treatment may be necessary, including:

  • Targeted drug therapies
  • Minimally invasive isolated limb perfusion
  • Immunotherapy
  • Mohs surgery
  • UV light treatments
  • Cryosurgery
  • Biochemotherapy

For more information on treatment options, talk to your physician.