Skin Cancer Guide


Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S., affecting approximately one in five Americans during the course of their lives.

Fortunately, many types and cases of skin cancer can be successfully treated when the disease is detected and diagnosed in its early stages.

Prevention and Detection

You can take concrete steps to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. In particular, these steps include minimizing your sun exposure, avoiding tanning beds, and regularly checking your skin for irregularities.

Screening is particularly important, especially if you:

  • Have had skin cancer before
  • Have had five or more blistering sunburns between ages 15 and 20
  • Have a family history of the disease
  • Have Cowden syndrome, Gorlin syndrome, or dysplastic nevus syndrome
  • Have received an organ transplant

Skin cancer screening typically involves a physical examination and, in many cases, full-body photography, both performed by a dermatologist.

If You Are Diagnosed

The best thing you can do if you are diagnosed with skin cancer is seek the care of an integrated medical team that specializes in treating and studying the disease. This team may include dermatologists, surgical dermatologists, and surgical, medical (chemotherapy), and radiation oncologists.

Our skin cancer specialists work together to deliver the most appropriate evidence-based care through our National Cancer Institute-designated Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Education is also important when it comes to skin cancer. Don’t hesitate to ask questions of your doctor, and if you wish to learn more, be sure to seek information only from reputable sources such as the American Cancer Society and the National Institutes of Health.

Treatment Options

Each patient with skin cancer is unique, and every case requires an individualized approach to treatment. Options include:

  • Mohs surgery – This layer-by-layer removal of skin cancer is performed by dermatologic surgeons.
  • Surgery – Traditional tumor removal (excision), laser and electrosurgery, which use light and electrical current, respectively, to precisely remove cancerous tissue, and reconstructive surgery are used to remove skin cancer and restore the look of the skin.
  • Cryosurgery – Commonly used to treat external precancerous or noncancerous basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, cryosurgery involves the application of liquid nitrogen to tumors to freeze and kill abnormal cells.
  • Immunotherapies – These highly targeted, cutting-edge therapies – now used to treat some types of melanoma – employ drugs that stimulate the immune system to fight cancer cells while reducing the impact to the rest of the body. Researchers are looking at ways to combine immunotherapies with other treatments to optimize outcomes.
  • Electron beam radiation – Sometimes used to destroy basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma cancer cells, this type of radiation therapy penetrates only the top level of skin, sparing other organs and body parts from unnecessary radiation.
  • Photodynamic (laser) therapy – This advanced treatment uses high-intensity light to destroy some types of precancerous lesions.
  • Sentinel lymph node biopsy and dissection – If a biopsy (tissue sample) taken from the lymph node(s) closest to the skin cancer (the sentinel lymph node) indicates the presence of cancer, the node(s) are removed by dissection.

In addition, clinical trials give eligible skin cancer patients access to the most promising new therapies, often years before they are available to the public.

Life Beyond Cancer

Your skin cancer journey doesn’t always end when your treatment does. Because some types of skin cancer are more likely to recur – some people are especially prone to developing skin cancers – it’s important to see your doctor for regular follow-up visits and screenings after your treatment has ended.

Appropriate supportive care – from emotional and nutritional counseling to rehabilitative services – also can be invaluable in helping you and your loved ones move beyond cancer.

Get past your skin cancer and help prevent recurrences by staying informed and being proactive. Avoid sun exposure and tanning beds, check your skin often for suspicious areas, and reach out to your doctor promptly if you have concerns or questions.