Skin Cancer

At some point in their life, one in five Americans will develop some type of skin cancer. The most common types are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. You can limit your lifetime risk of developing skin cancer by using sun safety and UV prevention tactics.

Early detection is important for every type of skin cancer, pay attention to changes in your skin and consult your dermatologist or health care provider for anything suspicious.

The first step in treating skin cancer is proper diagnosis. This requires your doctor to remove a small tissue sample (a biopsy) from the suspected site. When done at the UMHS, a specially trained skin pathologist (dermatopathologist) examines the biopsy to determine if cancer is present and if so what type.

If you have been diagnosed with basal or squamous cell skin cancer - or think you may have it -- call 734-936-4068.  If you have been diagnosed with melanoma, merkel cell or another, more rare form of skin cancer -- or think you may have it -- call 734-936-6360.

What Are Differences Between Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers?

Melanoma, Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) each arise from different cell types in the top layer of the skin.

BCC and SCC are far more common and also far less dangerous than melanoma. Each year, over 2 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with BCC and SCC. When detected and treated early, nearly all BCCs and SCCs can be cured.

In comparison, approximately 139,000 people will be newly diagnosed this year with melanoma – the most deadly form of skin cancer. Unfortunately, melanoma has a greater tendency to aggressively spread (metastasize) beyond the skin, to lymph nodes and internal organs. Thankfully, however, the vast majority of melanomas are caught early and cured.

Early Detection is Key

Make a habit of regularly checking your entire skin surface from head to toe, perhaps once a month. You don’t have to memorize each spot, just get familiar with the types of spots you have so that you’ll spot an “ugly duckling” (a spot that doesn’t fit in with the rest) more easily. Once you get used to it, a thorough exam will take only a few minutes.

To help guide your self-exam, check out the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center's Skin Cancer Screening Card: Be Smart About Your Skin, Know Your ABCDs and the UMSkinCheck App.  

Keep an eye out for changes in your skin: new or changing spots (these may be flat or raised), or a spot that itches, bleeds, or won’t heal. Be sure to have anything you think is suspicious checked out by your dermatologist, and consider having an annual skin check completed by your dermatologist or primary physician. A biopsy may be recommended to confirm whether or not a spot is skin cancer and to determine skin cancer type.

Sun Safety and UV Prevention Tactics

UV exposure increases your risk for all skin cancers. When you’re outdoors, it’s helpful to put something between the sun and your skin. Take advantage of shade, an umbrella at the pool or beach, a hat (broad-rimmed is better than a baseball cap to protect your ears and neck), sunglasses, keeping your shirt on while mowing, and so on.

If you know your skin will be exposed, use a broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen. Don’t be stingy with applying the sunscreen – you have to use a generous layer to achieve the SPF on the label. Reapply the sunscreen every couple of hours if you’ll be outside for a long time, and more often if you’re swimming or sweating. 

We strongly advise that you avoid tanning booths, which are linked to increased risk of melanoma.

It’s true that previous sunburns increase the risk that you’ll get skin cancer someday. However, if you are more careful now, you’re doing your skin a big favor. You will be less likely to encounter the “final straw” that turns damaged skin cells into cancerous ones. Focus on keeping your skin healthy now, and check your skin regularly so that if cancer turns up, you can catch it early when it’s far easier to treat and cure.

Skin Cancer Treatment Options

If your skin cancer is biopsy-confirmed, your dermatologist will recommend the treatment options best suited to your skin cancer type based on the location, size, and features noted on the biopsy specimen. Most skin cancer treatment is done on an outpatient basis, typically by one of the following three methods:

  • Mohs micrographic surgery: For many non-melanoma skin cancers, such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, the preferred treatment option is Mohs surgery. In this precise procedure, a small disc of tissue is removed around the skin cancer and prepared for immediate microscopic evaluation. The Mohs surgeon checks all of the edges of what was removed for cancer cells, while the patient waits. Once the edges are cancer-free, the wound is repaired. The goal of Mohs surgery is to provide a high cure rate and to remove the cancer while leaving as much normal, healthy skin behind as possible.
  • Wide-local excision:The doctor excises (surgically removes) the entire skin cancer together with a safe border of surrounding normal skin.
  • Electrodessication and Curettage (ED&C): For superficial non-melanoma skin cancers, ED&C provides high cure rates with minimal scarring. Because cancer cells scrape away more easily than normal tissue, a trained dermatologist can scrape away the cancerous cells using a tool called a curette and leave only normal skin behind.

Located at the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center our skin cancer program provides exceptional multidisciplinary care to all skin cancer patients. We are world-leaders in the advanced treatment of skin cancer and offer specialized clinics for patients with melanoma, Merkel cell carcinoma, non-melanoma skin cancer, as well as other rarer forms of skin cancer.

If you have been diagnosed with basal or squamous cell skin cancer - or think you may have it -- call 734-936-4068.  If you have been diagnosed with melanoma, merkel cell or another, more rare form of skin cancer -- or think you may have it -- call 734-936-6360.