What you should know about skin cancer
The skin is the body’s largest organ. It protects internal organs against damage, heat, and infection. The skin also endures more exposure to sunlight—and other forms of harmful ultraviolet rays—than any other organ, and is therefore the most susceptible to skin cancer.
There are three major types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, which is the most common; squamous cell carcinoma, which is the second most common; and melanoma, which is the most serious type of skin cancer.
Skin cancer can be detected and treated early, which is why it is important to check your skin monthly. The American Cancer Society recommends a skin examination by a doctor every 3 years for people aged 20 to 40 years and every year for anyone older than 40 years.
Talk with your doctor about anything unusual on your skin, including moles that:
- Are asymmetrical
- Are wider than a quarter-inch
- Have differing shades of tan, brown, or black or patches of red, blue, or white
- Have ragged or uneven, unusual borders
General risk factors for skin cancer
People with fair skin are 20 times more likely to develop skin cancer than people with darker skin. White people with red or blonde hair and fair skin that easily freckles or burns have the highest risk for skin cancer.
Other risk factors include:
- Exposure to ultraviolet rays and sunburn
- Family history of skin cancer
- Immune suppression (people who have illnesses affecting their immune system, such as HIV, or who take medicines to suppress their immune system after an organ transplant, for example, are at increased risk)
- Occupational exposure
Diagnosing skin cancer
To test for skin cancer, your dermatologist will take a skin sample from the suspicious area for analysis (biopsy). If the biopsy is positive, the dermatologist may order a chest x-ray, computed tomography (CT) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to see if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
Treating skin cancer
Treatment for skin cancer depends on the stage of the disease, whether it has spread to other parts of your body, and your overall health.
Treatments are often combined and may include:
- Biologic therapy – Which taps the power of the immune system to fight the cancer
- Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy treatment targets cancer cells with a medicine that is either taken internally or applied to the skin
- Cryosurgery – Which freezes the cancer before removal
- Electrodessication – Which uses an electric current to dry the cancer before removal
- Laser surgery – Which kills cancer cells with laser beams
- Photodynamic therapy – Which entails covering the cancer with a topical medicine that destroys it when exposed to light
- Radiation – Including external beam radiation therapy, which damages cancer cells’ ability to multiply so the body can eliminate them
- Surgery – To cut and remove cancer cells
A team of expert skin cancer specialists
Our world-renowned skin cancer specialists work collaboratively to develop an individualized treatment plan for each patient. These plans may include state-of-the-art surgery, the latest immunotherapies, including those in clinical trials, and strategies for preserving the affected area’s cosmetic appearance.