Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with over one million new cases diagnosed every year. Untreated skin cancers can be very dangerous, but with early detection and intervention most are curable.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of cancer, with about one million new cases estimated in the U.S. each year. Basal cell carcinomas arise from cells in the epidermis, or outermost layer of skin.The sun is closely linked to development of skin cancer, including BCC, which occurs most frequently on the sun-exposed areas of the body: face, ears, neck, scalp, shoulders and back.

Basal cell carcinoma is diagnosed with a simple skin biopsy. They are potentially locally aggressive, and if left untreated may invade into neighboring skin, muscle, blood vessels, nerves, cartilage, or bone. Untreated BCCs can lead to significant disfigurement and scarring. Basal cell carcinoma has an extremely low rate of metastasis, and is not usually life threatening. Cure rates approach 99% with Mohs surgical treatment.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common form of skin cancer, with over 250,000 new cases estimated in the U.S. per year.  Squamous cell carcinomas arise from cells in the epidermis, or outermost layer of the skin.
Most cases of SCC are caused by chronic overexposure to the sun.  Tumors appear most frequently on the sun-exposed face, neck, bald scalp, hands, shoulders, arms and back.  The rim of the ear and the lower lip are especially vulnerable to these cancers.

Squamous cell carcinoma is also caused by various types of skin injury: burns, scars, long-standing sores, sites previously exposed to X-rays or certain chemicals (such as arsenic and petroleum by-products). In addition, chronic skin inflammation or medical conditions that suppress the immune system over an extended period of time may encourage development of SCCs.

Most SCCs are not serious.  When identified early and treated promptly with Mohs surgery, cure rates approach 99% and metastasis rates are low.  However, untreated SCCs can lead to significant disfigurement and scarring.  While most SCCs are localized, the small percentage of remaining cases can spread to lymph nodes and distant organs and become life-threatening.

Melanoma is the third most common form of skin cancer, with over 60,000 new cases estimated in the U.S. per year. Melanoma originates in melanocytes, cells which produce the pigment that colors our skin, hair, and eyes.
Melanoma onset is linked to sun exposure and sunburns. Immune surveillance likely prevents many potential melanomas, but imperfect repair of sun damaged cells may lead to melanoma.  Since immune system function is largely inherited, melanoma predisposition is regarded as “hereditary.”

Melanoma is the most common cause of skin cancer related death. Untreated or advanced melanoma can spread to lymph nodes or distant organs, where it becomes difficult to treat and can be fatal.

Optimal patient outcomes depend on early detection and precise treatment. Treatment options for melanoma vary, but achievement of the highest cure rates available starts with surgical removal of melanoma with meticulous evaluation of surgical margins.