Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer.  The main types of skin cancer are squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Melanoma is much less common than the other types but much more likely to invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body. Most deaths from skin cancer are caused by melanoma. Explore the links on this page to learn more about skin cancer prevention, screening, treatment, statistics, research, clinical trials, and more.

Skin Cancer Treatment

  • Skin cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the skin.
  • Different types of cancer start in the skin.
  • Skin color and being exposed to sunlight can increase the risk of basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma of the skin.
  • Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma of the skin, and actinic keratosis often appear as a change in the skin.
  • Tests or procedures that examine the skin are used to diagnose basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma of the skin.
  • Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.

The skin is the body’s largest organ. It protects against heat, sunlight, injury, and infection. Skin also helps control body temperature and stores water, fat, and vitamin D. The skin has several layers, but the two main layers are the epidermis (upper or outer layer) and the dermis (lower or inner layer). Skin cancer begins in the epidermis, which is made up of three kinds of cells:

  • Squamous cells: Thin, flat cells that form the top layer of the epidermis.
  • Basal cells: Round cells under the squamous cells.
  • Melanocytes: Cells that make melanin and are found in the lower part of the epidermis. Melanin is the pigment that gives skin its natural color. When skin is exposed to the sun, melanocytes make more pigment and cause the skin to darken.

Skin cancer can occur anywhere on the body, but it is most common in skin that is often exposed to sunlight, such as the face, neck, and hands.

 

Childhood Basal Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Skin Treatment

There are two main forms of skin cancer:

  • Nonmelanoma: Skin cancer that forms in basal cells is called basal cell carcinoma. Skin cancer that forms in squamous cells is called squamous cell carcinoma of the skin. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma of the skin are two types of nonmelanoma skin cancer.
  • Melanoma: Skin cancer that forms in the melanocytes (cells that color the skin) is called melanoma. In children and adolescents, melanoma is more common than both basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma of the skin. See the PDQ summary on Childhood Melanoma for more information.

Melanoma Treatment

In men, melanoma is often found on the trunk (the area from the shoulders to the hips) or the head and neck. In women, melanoma forms most often on the arms and legs.

When melanoma occurs in the eye, it is called intraocular or ocular melanoma. (See the PDQ summary on Intraocular (Uveal) Melanoma Treatment for more information.)

Childhood Melanoma Treatment

These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by melanoma or by other conditions.

Check with your child’s doctor if your child has any of the following:

  • A mole that:
    • changes in size, shape, or color.
    • has irregular edges or borders.
    • is more than one color.
    • is asymmetrical (if the mole is divided in half, the 2 halves are different in size or shape).
    • itches.
    • oozes, bleeds, or is ulcerated (a condition in which the top layer of skin breaks down and the tissue below shows through).
  • A change in pigmented (colored) skin.
  • Satellite moles (new moles that grow near an existing mole).

Merkel Cell Carcinoma Treatment

Merkel cells are found in the top layer of the skin. These cells are very close to the nerve endings that receive the sensation of touch. Merkel cell carcinoma, also called neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin or trabecular cancer, is a very rare type of skin cancer that forms when Merkel cells grow out of control. Merkel cell carcinoma starts most often in areas of skin exposed to the sun, especially the head and neck, as well as the arms, legs, and trunk.

Merkel cell carcinoma tends to grow quickly and to metastasize (spread) at an early stage. It usually spreads first to nearby lymph nodes and then may spread to lymph nodes or skin in distant parts of the body, lungs, brain, bones, or other organs.

Merkel cell carcinoma is the second most common cause of skin cancer death after melanoma.

Skin Cancer Prevention

  • Skin cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the skin.
  • There are several types of skin cancer.
  • Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States.

Risk factors for melanoma skin cancer:

  • Having a fair complexion, which includes the following:
    • Fair skin that freckles and burns easily, does not tan, or tans poorly.
    • Blue or green or other light-colored eyes.
    • Red or blond hair.
  • Being exposed to natural sunlight or artificial sunlight (such as from tanning beds) over long periods of time.
  • Having a history of many blistering sunburns, especially as a child or teenager.
  • Having several large or many small moles.
  • Having a family history of unusual moles (atypical nevus syndrome).
  • Having a family or personal history of melanoma.
  • Being white.

Skin Cancer Screening

Screening is looking for cancer before a person has any symptoms. This can help find cancer at an early stage. When abnormal tissue or cancer is found early, it may be easier to treat. By the time symptoms appear, cancer may have begun to spread.

Scientists are trying to better understand which people are more likely to get certain types of cancer. They also study the things we do and the things around us to see if they cause cancer. This information helps doctors recommend who should be screened for cancer, which screening tests should be used, and how often the tests should be done.

It is important to remember that your doctor does not necessarily think you have cancer if he or she suggests a screening test. Screening tests are given when you have no cancer symptoms.

If a screening test result is abnormal, you may need to have more tests done to find out if you have cancer. These are called diagnostic tests.

Risks of Skin Cancer Screening

  • Screening tests have risks.
  • The risks of skin cancer screening tests include the following:
    • Finding skin cancer does not always improve health or help you live longer.
    • False-negative test results can occur.
    • False-positive test results can occur.
    • A biopsy may cause scarring.

What is Cancer?

  • Cancer can start almost anywhere in the human body, which is made up of trillions of cells. Normally, human cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old or become damaged, they die, and new cells take their place.

  • Cancer prevention is action taken to lower the risk of getting cancer. This can include maintaining a healthy lifestyle, avoiding exposure to known cancer-causing substances, and taking medicines or vaccines that can prevent cancer from developing.

  • Cancer can cause many different symptoms. Most often these symptoms are not caused by cancer, but by benign tumors or other problems. If you have symptoms that last for a couple of weeks, your doctor will do a physical exam and order tests or other procedures to find out what is causing your symptoms.