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Skin Cancer

What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is a condition in which the skin cells grow abnormally. While commonly found in areas of the skin that get a lot of sun, skin cancer can also happen in places that do not get a lot of sun. There are many types of skin cancer but the most common are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. As with all cancers, skin cancer should be taken seriously. While the five-year survival rate for some skin cancers is quite high, early detection is essential to the success of a case.

Types of Skin Cancer

There are several skin cancer types that a doctor might diagnose as a result of a skin biopsy.

Types of Pre-Cancer

There are two different types of pre-skin cancers. If left untreated, these lesions have the potential to turn into skin cancer.

Dysplastic Nevi:

Moles or nevi are very common and a person can get new ones through early adulthood. All of these moles fall on a spectrum from being normal (no or minimal chance of turning into a skin cancer) to melanoma (see description below). On that spectrum are mild, moderate and severely dysplastic nevi which can be thought of as precancerous moles or a marker of an increased risk for melanoma. Since early detection is paramount in detecting melanoma, it is important to have regular skin checks with your provider as well as perform frequent self skin checks to monitor for any changes in your moles.

Actinic Keratoses (precancerous lesion):

Persistent rough, scaly spots that appear on sun exposed areas due to years of sun exposure. A small percentage of these lesions left untreated can develop into skin cancer, especially squamous cell carcinoma.

Types of Skin Cancers:

There are three common types of skin cancers.

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC):

This is the most common of all skin cancers. It tends to be slow growing and frequently appears as a pinkish, translucent, pearly bump or red, scaly patch that does not heal on its own, bleeds easily or increases in size.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC):

This cancer usually grows faster than a BCC and can rarely spread locally. It resembles a new wart-like growth that may be painful, increasing in size or bleeding easily.

Malignant Melanoma:

While this is the least common skin cancer, it is the most dangerous due to its ability to spread. If detected early, melanoma can be completely cured. If left untreated, melanoma can spread to the lymph nodes, lungs, liver and brain.

Signs and Symptoms of Skin Cancer

There are a number of signs of skin cancer. These can vary based on the type of skin cancer involved.

Signs of basal cell carcinoma include:

  • A pearly bump on the skin
  • A flat, brown scar-like lesion
  • A scabbing sore that heals the recurs

Signs of squamous cell carcinoma include:

  • A hard, red nodule
  • A flat crusted lesion

Melanoma signs include:

  • A large brownish spot with speckles
  • Moles that change size or color or that bleed
  • A small lesion with an irregular border
  • An itchy, painful lesion
  • Dark lesions on your palms, soles, fingertips or toes, or on mucous membranes lining around the body

What Causes Skin Cancer

Skin cancer can be caused by exposure to UV radiation found in sunlight and tanning beds, as well as by exposure to toxins or having an immune condition. There are many risk factors associated with an increased chance of developing skin cancer, including:

  • Having a very light complexion
  • Getting multiple sunburns throughout your life
  • Excessive exposure to the sun
  • Living in sunny or high elevation climates
  • Having many irregular moles
  • A family history of skin cancer

How Skin Cancer is Treated

Fortunately, skin cancer is almost always curable with minimally-invasive treatments as long as it is detected early. For this reason, we recommend regular mole and skin cancer screenings to monitor any concerning lesions. Once a skin cancer is identified, there are multiple treatment options that your physician will discuss with you.

Topical treatments:

If a non-melanoma skin cancer is detected early and is superficial, there are a number of topical chemotherapy options that can be used. These creams, such as Imiquimod or 5-Fluorouracil, target and destroy the skin cancer cells and allow healthy skin to grow in its place.

Electrodessication and Curettage (ED&C) :

This treatment is preferred for non-melanoma skin cancers that are superficial or the patient prefers not to have stitches.

Surgical Removal:

This treatment usually requires stitches with limitation in exercise until the stitches are removed.

Mohs Micrographic Surgery:

This procedure may be recommended as a tissue-sparing surgery often for skin cancers on the face or ears. This procedure allows the surgeon to take the smallest amount of skin and using frozen sections can check specimens for cancer while the patient waits in the office. This leads to the smallest scar possible as well as precise removal of the cancer to minimize the risk of recurrence.


A biopsy works by taking a small sample of tissue from a suspect area in the body so that it can be tested under lab conditions for certain diseases and disorders. Learn More


Dermoscopy is a technique for evaluating the subsurface of the skin and diagnosing affected areas and lesions. Learn More


Excision is a minimally-invasive surgery technique used to remove moles, skin growths and lesions. Learn More

Fluorouracil (5FU)

Fluorouracil works to slow this growth by killing off the fast-growing cells in the affected region of the skin. Learn More


Mohs, or Mohs surgery, is a surgical technique used to treat skin cancer through the removal of skin lesions and growths. Learn More

Surgical Removal Excursion

Surgical removal excursion is a minor surgical procedure used in the treatment of lower risk skin cancers. Learn More

Topical Chemotherapy

Topical chemotherapy works by modifying the body’s immune response. Learn More

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