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Common Skin Cancers

By DuPage Medical Group Dermatology

Cancer is a very frightening word that is used to describe many very different diseases with many very different prognoses. Most cells that make up the body divide and reproduce in an orderly manner at a set slow pace. This allows the body to grow, replace worn-out tissue and repair injuries. If one of these cells is injured in some way (for example, by the sun) and becomes cancerous, meaning it begins to replicate and divide much more quickly. With the cell dividing more rapidly, the body is unable to process all of the new cells and a mass or ball of these cells is formed. This mass of new cells is called a tumor.

The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma (the most common and least dangerous), squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma (the least common but most dangerous type). These names come from the name of the type of cell that becomes cancerous: a basal cell, a squamous cell, or a melanocyte.

Basal Cell Carcinoma Diagnosis

  • Cancer of the skin that arises in the epidermis (most superficial layer of the skin)
  • Most common cancer in humans, as well as the most common type of skin cancer
  • Directly related to sun exposure, mostly cumulative damage over many years, especially sun exposure from childhood

What Basal Cell Carcinoma Looks Like

  • “Sore that will not heal”
  • “Pimple-like spot that keeps coming back”
  • “Bump that keeps bleeding”
  • More commonly occurs in areas with the most sun exposure – head, neck, and hands

You Should Seek Treatment to prevent

  • Lesion growth
  • Tumor may infiltrate nerves or functional facial structures
  • Infection is likely in late stages and untreatable

Treatment Options

  • Topical Creams (Efudex, Carac, Aldara)
  • Electrodesiccation and Curettage
  • Surgical Excision
  • Mohs Micrographic Surgery


  • Cure rate is 80%-99% depending on treatment preformed
  • Rate of Metastasis (spreading) is 0.5% (highly unlikely)
  • Chance of another primary lesion is 50%

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

  • Cancer of the skin arising from the superficial layers of the skin
  • Second most common skin cancer (second to BCC)
  • Directly related to cumulative sun exposure
  • Risk of metastasis, mostly in high-risk patients (immunodeficiency)

Squamous Cell Carcinoma Looks Like

  • “Rough patch that bleeds”
  • “Rapidly growing red bump that bleeds or is tender”
  • May arise from an Actinic Keratosis

Treatment Options

  • Because of the risk of metastasis, treatment is primarily surgical
  • Surgical Excision
  • Mohs Micrographic Surgery
  • Many treatment options exist for the precursor lesions (Actinic Keratoses)

Topics and Subtopics: Skin Health & Cancer

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