Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most prevalent of all types of cancer. It is a condition that occurs when damaged cells begin to divide and grow uncontrollably. It can appear anywhere on a person’s body but tends to be more common on the face, neck, hands and arms or other areas that are frequently exposed to the sun.

Skin cancer can be caused by sunburn and UV light exposure that damages the skin. That does not mean that if someone gets a sunburn they will inevitably get skin cancer. It also depends on heredity (a person’s inherited genetic make up) and environment.

There three types of skin cancer that account for nearly 100% of all diagnosed cases.


Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer, and, in fact, the most common malignancy in humans with about 1,000,000 new cases diagnosed in the US annually. It is found most often in those with fair-skin, but can also be present in people with darker skin color. This type of cancer is usually limited to the skin, but if neglected, can lead to significant destruction of underlying tissue structures. It is exceedingly rare that basal cell carcinoma metastasizes to other areas of the body. If detected and properly treated, basal cell carcinoma has a cure rate of greater than 95 percent. Basal cell carcinoma is typically treated by surgical removal of the lesion or with localized destruction techniques.


Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer, accounting for between 10-20% of all skin tumors. This type of skin cancer can metastasize or spread to other parts of the body. Those at highest risk for squamous cell carcinoma are persons with a substantial history of lifetime ultraviolet light exposure, or those persons who are immunosuppressed. If detected and properly treated, squamous cell carcinoma has a cure rate of 95 percent. Squamous cell carcinoma is typically treated by removing the lesion with surgery.


Melanoma is found much less commonly than basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma but it is the most deadly of all skin cancers because it more rapidly can spread to other parts of the body. Unfortunately, melanoma is 20 times more common today than 60 years ago, and the incidence continues to rise in young women, and older men. Melanoma can first be seen when an area on the skin starts to turn mixed shades of tan, brown and black, or a mole changes in shape or size, or develops symptoms such as bleeding, itching, or burning. Treatment for melanoma can include surgery to remove the tumor, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, biologic therapy, and/or chemoimmunotherapy.

People, particularly fair-skinned people, with a history of skin cancer in their family are at higher risk. It is important to monitor moles and have darker spots of skin checked by a dermatologist if they appear to change size, change color, change shape, ooze, or bleed or if they feel itchy, hard, lumpy, swollen or tender to the touch.

At Medical Dermatology Specialists we use our electronic medical record system to offer photodocumentation for patients needing follow-up for numerous abnormal moles. Using high resolution digital photographs that are kept in the patient’s computerized record, moles are compared to their previous appearance to enhance the ability to detect worrisome features.

When detected early, treatment for skin cancer is typically very effective.

For more information on skin cancer, please visit the National Cancer Institute.