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Skin Cancer Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q: What are the most common forms of skin cancer?
    • A: There are three common types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma (both are known as non-melanoma skin cancers), and melanoma.
      • Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer, found in the basal cells of the skin, the cells that make new cells to replace the ones that die. BCC is found primarily on the areas of the skin that get the most exposure to sunlight: face, head, hands, and neck.
      • Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is the second-most common form of skin cancer, found in the outer layer of skin in areas most exposed to sunlight: face (including the mouth), head, hands, neck, and even in areas such as mucus membranes and genitals. General risk factors for skin cancer apply here, but it should also be noted that most cancers developed by African Americans are SCCs.
      • Melanoma develops in the cells that are responsible for making pigment in the skin and is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. It is quick-growing and capable of spreading through the lymph nodes and to the internal organs of the body. If found early enough, it has a high treatment success rate.  
         
  • Q: What are some skin cancer warning signs?
    • Each type of skin cancer has specific symptoms to watch for, but overall it is important to be aware of your body and to take note of any noticeable changes to your skin, regardless of whether they fit into one of the specific symptom lists. See our Skin Cancer Early Detection page for more.
      • Basal Cell Carcinoma: Areas on the skin that look like scars, lumps or nodules that are shiny or have visible blood vessels; crusty, itchy patches of skin that may bleed or have a depression in the middle; or red patches of skin that look like eczema.
      • Squamous Cell Carcinoma: any sore that does not heal or comes back after healing; rough-feeling growths/bumps that get crusted over and bleed; patches of skin that are flat, scaly, and red; or white spots in the mouth, on the tongue, gums, or cheeks.
      • Melanoma: can present as moles, scaly patches of skin, open sores, raised bumps, or black marks under finger or toenails. Use the ABCDE memory device to spot the warning signs of melanoma on the skin: Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter, Evolution, or the Ugly Duckling method, where any mole or marking that does not look like the others on your body is worth getting checked by a dermatologist.
         
  • Q: Is skin cancer becoming more common?
    • A: Yes, the occurrence of skin cancer has been rising steadily and quickly over the years. One in two men and one in three women will develop nonmelanoma skin cancer in their lifetime. Once a patient has a nonmelanoma skin cancer, there is a much higher risk of developing more skin cancers.
       
  • Q: What are the treatments for skin cancer?
    • Both non-melanoma skin cancers and melanoma, when it is caught early (before it spreads to the lymph nodes), have high rates of success for treatment. The main objective for treating skin cancer is to remove all of the cancerous cells, which means that the first line for therapies are surgical. The type of surgical removal depends on the type, size, depth, and location of the tumor, and most often can be done on an outpatient basis, meaning there is no overnight hospital stay required.
       
    • One or more of the following surgical procedures may be used to treat skin cancer:
      • Simple excision: The tumor, along with some of the normal tissue around it, is cut from the skin.
      • Mohs micrographic surgery: The tumor is cut from the skin in thin layers. During the procedure, the edges of the tumor and each layer of tumor removed are viewed through a microscope to check for cancer cells. Layers continue to be removed until no more cancer cells are seen. This type of surgery removes as little normal tissue as possible. It is often used to remove skin cancer on the face, fingers, or genitals and skin cancer that does not have a clear border.
      • Shave excision: The abnormal area is shaved off the surface of the skin with a small blade.
      • Curettage and electrodesiccation: The tumor is cut from the skin with a curette (a sharp, spoon-shaped tool). A needle-shaped electrode is then used to treat the area with an electric current that stops the bleeding and destroys cancer cells that remain around the edge of the wound. The process may be repeated one to three times during the surgery to remove all of the cancer. This type of treatment is also called electrosurgery.
      • Cryosurgery: A treatment that uses an instrument to freeze and destroy abnormal tissue, such as carcinoma in situ. This type of treatment is also called cryotherapy.
      • Laser surgery: A surgical procedure that uses a laser beam (a narrow beam of intense light) as a knife to make bloodless cuts in tissue or to remove a surface lesion such as a tumor.
      • Dermabrasion: Removal of the top layer of skin using a rotating wheel or small particles to rub away skin cells.
         
    • Radiation, chemotherapy or immunotherapy may be necessary for advanced cases of skin cancer or when patients are unable to have surgery. Learn more about treatment for melanoma skin cancers from the National Cancer Institute.
  • Q: What is melanoma?
    • A: Melanoma develops in the cells that are responsible for making pigment in the skin and is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. It is quick-growing and capable of spreading through the lymph nodes and to the internal organs of the body. In 2019, it is estimated that there will be 96,480 new cases of melanoma of the skin.
       
  • Q: How treatable is melanoma?
    • A: When detected early, before it has spread, Melanoma is highly treatable. Once melanoma reaches advanced stages where it has spread to the lymph nodes and internal organs it is much harder to treat. It is estimated that 7,230 people will die from melanoma in 2019.
       
  • Q: Who is at risk for melanoma?
    • A: Melanoma is more common in men than women, among individuals of fair complexion, those who have been exposed to natural or artificial sunlight (such as tanning beds) over long periods of time. There are more new cases among whites than any other racial/ethnic group, but the 5-year survival rate for people with light skin is 94%, to only 66% for people with dark skin. Melanoma of the skin is most frequently diagnosed among people aged 65-74, with 65 being the median age of diagnosis.
       
  • Q: What does melanoma look like?
    • A: Melanoma can present as moles, scaly patches of skin, open sores, raised bumps, or black marks under finger or toenails. Use the ABCDE memory device to spot the warning signs of melanoma on the skin: Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter, Evolution, or the Ugly Duckling method, where any mole or marking that does not look like the others on your body is worth getting checked by a dermatologist. If you are considered moderate to high risk of skin cancer, many doctors recommend a monthly skin self-check and a yearly physician skin examination. Check out our Early Detection and Screening page for tips on doing a self-skin check.

 

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