Your questions about skin cancer answered | Ascension

Your questions about skin cancer answered

Start a conversation with a doctor if you have questions or concerns about skin cancer or changes in your skin that concern you.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. And it’s predicted that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer during their lifetime. Knowing skin cancer risk factors, seeing a dermatologist, and understanding your treatment options are key to early detection and staying healthy. 

What are the different types of skin cancer? 

The three main types of skin cancers are 

  1. Melanoma: Looks like a mole that may change colors over time, has an irregular border or shape, or bleeds
  2. Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC): Usually looks like a thick, crusty bump
  3. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC): Looks like a lot of different things—sometimes a shiny pink bump or a scaly pink area, and the trickiest ones look like scars

What are the risk factors of skin cancer?

In general, people with lighter skin color that burn easily have a higher skin cancer risk. Other risks include family history of skin cancer, older age, multiple past sunburns or blistering sunburns, a weakened immune system, and tanning bed use. 

How do I know if I have skin cancer? 

It can be hard to know if you have skin cancer. There are several types of skin cancer that look different. Skin cancer may be painful, itchy or bleed. But even if you don’t have these symptoms, new skin concerns may be cancer. And sometimes new skin concerns are benign, meaning they are not cancer. If you have a new skin growth or something different on your skin that concerns you, ask your doctor to take a look. 

How is skin cancer different for skin of color?

Skin cancer in skin of color often presents as a dark mole, a sore that doesn’t get better or bleeds, a wart-like growth, or a dark line under a nail. You can monitor your skin by looking at it monthly. Schedule a visit with a dermatologist if you see new or changing lesions.

What kind of doctor treats skin cancer? 

A dermatologist is a doctor trained to recognize and treat skin cancer. Dermatologists can identify changes in the skin that might be cancer (lesions), take a skin sample (biopsy) if needed for diagnosis, and in many cases, treat cancer too. 

What will my doctor do if they suspect that I have skin cancer?

Your dermatologist will take a biopsy of or test an area that looks like it might be cancer. The doctor will numb your skin with a local injection and then remove a small piece of skin to send to the lab. Depending on the biopsy type, a stitch may or may not be required. 

What treatments are available for skin cancer?

Treatment options depend on factors such as the type, size, stage, and location of the skin cancer. For smaller BCC or SCC, your doctor may scrape the top of the lesion with a curette and then burn the cancerous areas. If it’s a larger cancer, or melanoma, you will need surgery. A surgical excision is where the doctor cuts out the cancer and sews the surrounding skin back together. If the cancer is aggressive, some people need radiation and/or chemotherapy.

What is Mohs surgery?

Mohs surgery is a specialized surgical technique to remove skin cancers. With this type of surgery, the skin cancer is removed one layer at a time and evaluated. This method allows surgeons to remove cancer without damaging the surrounding areas. Mohs micrographic surgery works well for treating skin cancers in high risk or cosmetically sensitive sites, when other treatments have failed, or cancer cells recur.

Where do I get treatment for skin cancer?

Start a conversation with a doctor if you have questions or concerns about skin cancer or changes in your skin that concern you. Schedule an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist. Find a doctor near you.