About Skin Cancer

Skin cancer occurs when abnormal skin cells begin to grow out of control and take the form of “lesions,” such as moles, ulcers or bumps. Including the least aggressive types, skin cancers accounts for nearly half of all new cancers and is increasing in incidence. The three most common types of skin cancer include:

  • Basal cell carcinoma forms in the lower part of the epidermis—the outer layer of the skin. It is a slow growing skin cancer that accounts for approximately 75 percent of all skin cancers. Most of these are cured with just a minor procedure.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma develops from keratinocytes, flat, scale-like skin cells that lie under the top layer of the epidermis that make a substance called keratin, which helps protect the body. Most of these are cured with just a minor procedure.
  • Melanoma is the less common form of skin cancer, but is the most dangerous. It tends to most commonly affect people with fair-skin, freckles and moles, and can also be genetic. Melanoma is highly curable in its early stages.

The exact causes of skin cancer are unknown, but the most widely recognized risk is excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation—sunlight being the main source of this radiation, but artificial forms such as those associated with tanning beds put people at excess risk. Certain types of moles increase a person’s chance of getting melanoma. Also at risk are people who have been treated with immune suppressant medicines, such as organ transplant patients. Once a person has been diagnosed with one melanoma, he or she is more likely to have future diagnoses of melanoma.

Skin Cancer Screening & Diagnosis

The best screening for skin cancer is a self exam of your skin. Any signs or symptoms should be discussed with your physician. An easy way of remember signs and symptoms is the “ABCDEs” of melanoma:

  • Asymmetry: Moles that are unequal in size from one half to the other.
  • Border: Moles with irregular, scalloped or undefined border
  • Color: Variations in mole color (including tan to brown, black, red or blue)
  • Diameter: Moles with a diameter larger than a pencil eraser (greater than 6 mm)
  • Elevation: Moles that are raised (elevated) from the skin.

Patients who present with suspicious symptoms to their primary care physician will most likely undergo a biopsy (for melanoma detection) of potentially affected tissue by a dermatologist or a surgeon. Diagnosis is then confirmed through pathology tests of the tissue.

If a diagnosis of skin cancer is made, a physician will determine the severity or stage of the cancer, including whether it has spread to other areas of the body. Each cancer type has its own classification system.

Multispecialty Team

NorthShore University HealthSystem physicians and the team at the Kellogg Cancer Center work collaboratively and are dedicated to putting patients and families at the center of a healthcare experience that delivers compassionate, quality care.

Every week, our multidisciplinary team meets to discuss each patient’s case in detail and to design a personalized treatment plan. Your team may include your dermatologist, medical oncologist, surgeon, radiation oncologist, genetics counselor, pathologist, nutritionist, radiologist, and researchers focused on you. This meeting of the minds provides each  patient with an individualized care plant to create the path for the most successful outcome. Our approach emphasizes open communication, collaborating with each other personally and through one of the most advanced electronic medical records systems in the country.

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