Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. It is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. but also the easiest to cure when found and treated early.
For this reason, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends scheduling annual skin checks with your dermatologist.
Skin cancer types and symptoms
These are the most common types of skin cancer and their symptoms:
- Actinic keratoses: These dry, scaly patches or spots are considered the earliest stage of skin cancer.
- Basal cell carcinoma: The most common type of skin cancer, it occurs in places usually exposed to sun. It frequently looks like a flesh-colored, pearl-like bump. It also can appear as a pinkish patch of skin.
- Squamous cell carcinoma: This is the second most common type of skin cancer. It is often reddish in color and can look like a firm bump, scaly patch or an ulcer that heals and then re-opens.
- Melanoma: It frequently develops in a mole or appears suddenly as a new dark spot on the skin. Melanoma can be deadly. When detected and properly treated before it spreads, melanoma has a high cure rate.
Skin cancer risk factors
People of all skin tones can get skin cancer. Those with light skin who sunburn easily have a higher risk.
Risk factors for the most common types of skin cancer include the following:
- Family history of skin cancer
- X-ray exposure
- Weakened immune system
- Scarring caused by a disease or burn
- Indoor tanning
How can I get help for skin cancer?
Schedule annual skin screenings with a dermatologist — a doctor who specializes in skin, hair and nail conditions. Also, check your skin regularly for changes. If you notice any suspicious changes, make an appointment with a dermatologist. Your doctor may do a biopsy, removing a sample of the suspicious area to check it for cancer.
Care for skin cancer at Rush
If your skin cancer is small, sometimes it is completely removed during a biopsy and no more treatment is needed. If you need further treatment, it will depend on factors such as the type, size and location of your skin cancer. Treatment is often available during an office visit or as an outpatient procedure.
Dermatologists at Rush treat most skin cancers with surgery or drugs:
- Excisional surgery: Removes the cancer and a small surrounding area of healthy skin.
- Mohs surgery : Removes the skin cancer layer by layer, examining each layer under a microscope for cancer cells. It is often used in areas, like the nose, where you want to conserve as much skin as possible.
- Photodynamic therapy: You receive an injection of a drug that collects more in cancer cells than in normal cells. Laser light activates the drug to destroy the cancer cells.
- Topical therapy: An anticancer drug in the form of a cream or liquid is applied to the skin.
Why choose Rush for skin cancer care
- Rush offers a melanoma surveillance clinic for those at greater risk of developing melanoma. Regular monitoring can find melanoma early before it spreads to other areas of the body.
- Dermatologists at Rush are trained to perform Mohs surgery. This procedure has the highest cure rate, preserves more healthy tissue and results in less scarring.
- Rush offers specialized treatments for rare skin cancers, such as total skin electron irradiation to treat mycosis fungoides.