Understanding the Different Types of Skin Cancer

Understanding the Different Types of Skin Cancer

Your skin is your largest organ and the organ most vulnerable to cancer, especially if you spend time in the sun without protection, if you have light skin and eyes, or if skin cancer runs in your family. 

Every day in the United States alone, 9,500 people are diagnosed with a type of skin cancer, meaning that if you have it, you’re far from alone. Thankfully, even the most aggressive form is typically curable with early detection and treatment.

Board-certified cosmetic surgeon Robert M. Schwarcz, MD, is pleased to provide such treatment, including Mohs surgery. Read on to learn about the three most common skin cancer types and how Dr. Schwarcz and his team can help.

Basal cell carcinoma

More people are diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma than any other form of skin cancer. In fact, 3.6 million people in the U.S. learn they have it each year. It derives from uncontrolled, abnormal growth of basal cells within your skin and tends to grow slowly without spreading to other tissues in your body.

During this growth, it destroys skin tissue in its path, leading to raised red or pink bumps that are often flaky. These symptoms typically appear on areas of your skin that have been repeatedly exposed to UV rays, such as your arms, ears, face, and legs.

Squamous cell carcinoma

Rays from the sun also play a role in squamous cell carcinoma, but typically only in people who have a compromised immune system. Unlike basal cell skin cancer, this form is highly aggressive and more likely to spread to your lymph nodes or organs without treatment.

The most common sign is a rough growth on your skin, known as actinic keratosis, which progresses into a crusty-edged, inflamed ulcer. 


Melanoma only accounts for about 1% of skin cancer cases, but it results in the most skin cancer-related deaths. Highly invasive and aggressive, melanoma starts out as a mole caused by sun exposure and can rapidly spread to your blood and lymphatic system.

Genetics may also play a role in whether you develop it. The melanoma mole may appear asymmetrical, have an irregular border, and change colors. It can also appear anywhere on your body, even under your fingernails or in your eye.

Treatment for skin cancer

Early diagnosis is important when you have skin cancer, particularly when you have melanoma. The sooner you receive needed treatment, the better your outcome will be. Treatment usually involves removal of cancerous cells. Dr. Schwarcz can also remove precancerous lesions, preventing the disease on that area of skin.

Dr. Schwarcz has extensive experience in Mohs surgery. This specialized way of removing skin cancer cells — guided with detailed mapping and a microscopic exam of your skin — best protects surrounding tissue and leads to minimal scarring. Mohs surgery is considered the most effective and precise skin cancer treatment, resulting in a 99% success rate.

For more advanced and serious skin cancers, such as later stage melanoma, you may also need radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or immunotherapy.

If you’re concerned about skin cancer or precancer, call our office or request a consultation using our online scheduling tool to book an appointment with Dr. Schwarcz.

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