Skin Cancers

Keeping Your Skin Free from Cancer

The American Academy of Dermatology counts skin cancer as the most common cancer in the U.S. It’s currently estimated that 1 in every 5 Americans will develop skin cancer at least once in their lifetime. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation, or the sun’s rays, is the cause of most skin cancers, and can happen even on cloudy days.

Don’t let skin cancer sneak up on you–schedule a full skin exam today.

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What is Skin Cancer?

As the largest organ in your body, your skin covers a lot of ground. There are several layers of skin, but the two main layers are the dermis (lower/inner layer) and the epidermis (upper/outer layer).

Skin cancer begins in your epidermis, that outer layer. There are three kinds of cells found in your epidermis:

  • Squamous cells - these flat, thin cells form the top layer of your epidermis
  • Basal cells - these round cells are found beneath your squamous cells
  • Melanocytes - these cells that make melanin (responsible for giving your skin color); melanocytes are found in the lower part of your epidermis.

Skin cancer is usually caused by exposure to UV (ultraviolet) rays from the sun, sunlamps, or tanning beds. UV rays damage your skin cells; in the short term, this may just be a sunburn. But over time, that UV damage adds up, which leads to premature skin aging, changes in skin texture, and potentially skin cancer.

Skin Cancer Risk Factors

Skin cancer doesn’t discriminate, but there are people who have a higher risk than others. Those at increased risk may have:

  • A family history of skin cancer
  • A personal history of skin cancer
  • A naturally lighter skin color
  • Blonde or red hair
  • Blue or green eyes
  • Certain types of moles and/or a lot of moles
  • Older age
  • Skin that burns or freckles easily, or becomes painful in the sun
  • Weakened immune system

Reducing your exposure to UV rays is the best way to keep your skin happy and healthy, and to lower your chances of getting skin cancer in the future. If you’re spending time–any time–outdoors, it’s important to remember that sunglasses, a hat, and sunscreen can go a long way in protecting your skin.

Symptoms of Skin Cancer

The most common sign of skin cancer is a change in your skin. A new mole, a mole that is changing, or a sore that doesn’t heal, is definitely something to pay attention to.

Schedule a full skin exam if you notice any changes in your skin. And, if you have any of the above risk factors, make sure you’re getting a skin check at least once per year. During your skin check, we will take your medical history, thoroughly examine your entire body, and determine if there are moles or spots that should be examined further.

Types of Skin Cancer 

The two most common skin cancer types are basal and squamous cell carcinomas. They begin in the basal or squamous layers of the skin and affect a large majority of skin cancer sufferers. Both are curable, but can leave lasting traces and be expensive.

Melanoma is the third most common skin cancer type and it beings in your melanocytes. Melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer because it tends to spread throughout the body, often to other body parts.

Basal Cell Carcinomas

There are more than 4 million diagnoses of basal cell carcinoma worldwide each year. Luckily, it is highly treatable and very rarely spreads.

We find your basal cells at the base of your epidermis, which is the outermost layer of tissue that makes up your skin. Most commonly, basal cell carcinoma is caused by ultraviolet light–exposure to sunlight or UV rays in tanning beds. It is also found in patients who are undergoing radiation for other cancers, at their injection site.

Typically found on areas of the body that get a lot of sun exposure, like the scalp, the face, or the back of the hands, basal cell carcinoma symptoms include:

  • A sore that won’t heal
  • Skin changes
  • Lumps that differ from nearby skin in color or texture (may be scaly, firm, red, white, or brown) 

The simplest way to treat basal cell carcinoma is with surgery to remove the growth. For many, Mohs surgery is a treatment option. During this procedure, your Rochester Regional Health surgeon will remove one layer of skin tissue at a time, examining each for cancer cells. They will continue this process until no more cancer cells are found.

Some patients have cryotherapy recommended, which kills cancer cells with extreme cold. And while basal cell carcinoma rarely spreads beyond where it’s first developed, other options exist for you if your skin cancer has metastasized or is very extensive. We’ll be there every step of the way and will help find the right treatment option for you and your skin.

Squamous Cell Carcinomas 

Your squamous cells make up the outermost layer of your skin and can be found elsewhere in your body, like the lining of hollow organs. More than 1 million Americans are diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma every year. Fortunately, it is a very treatable and curable form of cancer. 

The buildup of UV light is the most common cause of squamous cell carcinoma, but other risk factors include chronic skin wounds and radiation therapy from other cancers. Organ transplant recipients also have a high risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma, which doctors believe is caused by the immunosuppressive drugs used to help your body accept the transplanted organ.

The symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma include:

  • Sores that won’t heal
  • Skin changes
  • A lump that differs from nearby skin in texture or color

It is rare that squamous cell carcinoma metastasizes (or spreads). If yours is a large tumor, there is a higher risk of metastasis, and tumors around your head or neck are most likely to spread.

Surgery is the most common treatment of squamous cell carcinoma. For some, a combination of surgery and topical chemotherapy or cryotherapy may offer you the best results. 


The third-most-common skin cancer type, melanoma has the highest death rate of all types and is the most likely to metastasize (spread) throughout your body.

Melanoma typically appears as an existing mole that begins to change shape, size, or color, or as an irregular brown, black, and/or red spot. In fair-skinned men, melanoma tends to appear on the trunk area. Fair-skinned women most typically find it on their lower legs. And in darker-skinned people, melanoma is most frequently found in the skin under nails, on the palms, and on the soles of the feet.

There are different types of melanoma, each with its own treatment and outlook. After carefully diagnosing your melanoma, your dermatologist will talk to you about your outlook and the best treatment options for your health. There is no one size of treatment that will fit for every person.

When caught early, melanoma is very treatable. Usually, melanomas caught early are treated via surgery, which may also be used in combination with other treatments in more advanced cases.

Our specially trained dermatologists will work with surgeons throughout our system to ensure you receive the very best surgical care. If a combination of treatments are necessary, your options may include radiation therapyand immunotherapy.

Skin cancer is highly treatable when discovered and diagnosed early. Our full skin exams will help ensure no mysterious moles or skin concerns progress further than they need to.

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Conquer Skin Concerns

The first step towards taking care of your skin is a full skin exam. We’ll examine your skin, looking for obvious and sneaky concerns before we come up with a personalized dermatological plan for you. Don’t wait - get screened today.
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