About Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most prevalent of all cancers.When it comes to its early detection, taking a good look at your skin could save your life. Examining your skin on a regular basis is easy and painless. Become familiar with your skin and your own pattern of moles, freckles and beauty marks. Be alert to any changes in the number, size, shape and color of pigmented areas. Bring any change you observe to your doctor’s attention immediately.

Cancer FAQs

What are the different types of skin cancer?

There are three main types of skin cancer named for a specific type of cell involved in the cancer:

  • Basal cell carcinoma is the most common and least serious type. It is slow growing and accounts for nearly 90 percent of all skin cancers. It looks like a smooth, waxy or pearly bump. It can also be flat, red or scaly.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma, usually a firm, red nodule or rough, scaly flat lesion that may itch, bleed and become crusty, is more serious since it can spread to the lymph nodes.
  • Melanoma, comprised of pigment-producing cells, is the deadliest form of skin cancer, responsible for 75 percent of all skin cancer deaths.

How is skin cancer treated?

Most skin cancers are surgically removed. This may be done through excisional biopsy, in which the cancer and some surrounding tissue are cut away, or through other surgical techniques. One technique, called Moh’s surgery, is most effective for basal cell and squamous cell cancers. It removes the cancer lesion one thin layer at a time, sparing surrounding healthy tissue and leaving a smaller wound. If extensive surgery is required,
reconstructive surgery can be performed to achieve a more favorable cosmetic result.

If skin cancer has spread, additional treatments may include radiation therapy, chemotherapy or biological response modifiers (substances that help stimulate your body’s immune system to fight the cancer). Radiation therapy may be used as a primary treatment, instead of surgery, in certain cases of basal cell and squamous cell cancers. Clinical trials of investigational therapies may be recommended to certain patients.

What does staging of melanoma involve?

This determines the size of the cancer and whether it has spread to any other organs. The thinner the melanoma, the better the prognosis. Those that are less than 1/25 of an inch in depth have a small chance of spreading. The thickness of the melanoma guides the treatment recommended. Staging systems can range from 0-4 or 1-4; the lower the better.

What are the survival rates for melanoma?

The five-year survival rate for Stage I melanoma is more than 90 percent. The five-year survival rate for Stage II is 80 percent; Stage III is 50 percent and Stage IV is 20 to 30 percent. Although five-year survival rate refers to the percent of patients who are living five years after their cancer is diagnosed, many of these patients live much longer than five years.

Cancer Myths & Facts

Myth: Tanning booths are less harmful than the sun.
Fact: Ultraviolet light from tanning booths or lamps is just as harmful as the sun’s ultraviolet light. Too much exposure to light from tanning booths, lamps or sunlight increases your risk for all types of skin cancer, including melanoma.

Myth: Skin cancer always occurs in older people.
Fact: Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas typically occur in older people, but melanoma is one of the most common cancers in people less than 30 years of age.

Myth: Melanoma is a death sentence.
Fact: When detected early, before it has had a chance to spread, melanoma is almost totally curable.

Prevention & Screening

How to Perform a Skin Self-Exam

  1. Examine your body front and back in the mirror, then right and left sides, arms raised.
  2. Bend elbows; look carefully at forearms, back of upper arms and palms.
  3. Look at backs of legs and feet, spaces between toes and soles.
  4. Examine back of neck and scalp with a hand mirror. Part hair to lift.
  5. Finally, check back and buttocks with a hand mirror.


  • Pearly or waxy bump on the skin of your face or neck
  • Flat, flesh-colored or brown, scar-like lesion on your chest or back
  • Firm, red nodule or flat lesion with a scaly or crusted surface on your face, neck, ears, hands, or arms
  • Itchiness, tenderness or pain associated with lesions
  • Any lesion that is: Asymmetrical in shape
  • Has an irregular or jagged border
  • Varies in color from tan to brown, brown to black or red to blue
  • Is bigger than the top of a pencil eraser

Risk Factors

  • Family history of skin cancer
  • People with red or blond hair
  • Fair or freckled skin that burns easily
  • Those with more than 50 moles
  • Three or more blistering sunburns in the past
  • Age, over 50

Diagnostic Aids

  • Visual evaluation
  • Biopsy

Treatment Options

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Biological therapy
  • Clinical trials

Preventive Measures

  • Reduce time in sun
  • Avoid mid-day sun
  • Apply sunscreen with SPF of 15 or higher daily
  • Wear protective clothing and hats
  • Avoid tanning parlors