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Our Skin

The skin is the largest organ in our body. It provides protection against heat, cold, light, and infection.

The skin is made up of two major layers, as well as, various types of cells.

The top layer of skin, the epidermis, is composed of 3 types of cells:

  • Squamous cells are flat & scaly
  • Basal cells are round
  • Melanocytes provide skin its color & protect against damage

The inner layer of skin, the dermis, is composed of nerves, blood vessels, and sweat glands.

Important Facts about Skin Cancer

Types of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is a disease in which cancerous (malignant) cells are found in the outer layers of your skin. There are several types of cancer that originate in the skin.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

  • Accounts for about 20% of skin cancer types
  • Typically seen on areas exposed to excess sun – nose, lips, hands, & forehead
  • Usually, appears as a firm red bump or skin ulcer that does not heal
  • Can spread to surrounding lymph nodes
  • Classified as a non-melanoma skin cancer

Basal Cell Carcinoma

  • Most common – accounts for 70% of skin cancer types
  • Typically seen on areas exposed to excess sun – nose, lips, hands, & forehead
  • Usually, appears as a small, raised bump that has a pearly appearance
  • Can spread to surrounding skin, but rarely spreads to other parts of the body


  • Least common, but much more serious – accounts for 5% of skin cancer types
  • Usually appear as pigmented lesions (multiple colors) in the skin that have an irregular shape or border
  • Arises from the melanocytes (cells that give color to our skin)
  • Most harmful skin cancer – can spread to lymph nodes or other places in the body
  • Fortunately, most melanomas have a very high cure rate when identified and treated early

Factors that increase a person’s chances of developing skin cancer:

  • History of excessive sun exposure or frequent sunburns
  • Fair skin
  • Family history of skin cancer (particularly melanoma)
  • History of indoor tanning bed usage

Decrease Sun Exposure

  • Most important strategy – avoid direct sun exposure
  • Wear clothing & accessories to protect skin – hat, sunglasses, long sleeves, scarf, pants
  • Try to avoid outside activity from 10am to 2pm while UV rays are most powerful

Apply Sunscreen

  • Routine application of sunscreen to skin (Face, Ears, Neck, Arms, Hands, etc.)
  • Use SPF greater than 30
  • Re-apply often – especially of sweating or swimming

Frequent Skin Checks

  • Routinely self-examine skin after a shower in front of full length mirror
  • Note any moles, birthmarks, or blemishes – watch if they change size, color, or texture
  • Watch for sores or ulcerations that do not heal
  • Immediately see your physician if you notice anything that is new or unusual on your skin
  • Annual skin check by a Dermatologist is highly recommended for those with a family history of skin cancer

The vast majority of skin cancers can be cured if diagnosed and treated early. Aside from protecting your skin from sun damage, it is important to recognize early potential signs of skin cancer:

  • Skin sores that do not heal
  • Growing bumps or nodules in the skin
  • Changes in existing moles (size, texture, color)

If you notice any of the above skin characteristics, see your doctor right away.

If you have a spot or lump on your skin, your doctor may remove the growth and examine the tissue under the microscope. This is called a biopsy. A biopsy can usually be done in the doctor’s office and usually involves numbing the skin with a local anesthetic. Examination of the biopsy under the microscope will tell the doctor if the skin lesion is a cancer (malignancy).

The most optimal treatment plan in response to a skin cancer diagnosis depends on various factors such as the specific type and size of skin cancer, as well as, the patient’s age and overall health status. The three main treatment responses are either surgical excision, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy.


  • Most common treatment – usually an in-office or outpatient procedure to remove lesion and check edges to make sure all cancer cells have been removed
  • Mohs Surgery (specific excision technique) – best chance to include all margins, while still minimizing the size of the defect
  • Depending on the size of the defect, your doctor may take some skin from elsewhere to cover the wound and promote healing
  • Certain surrounding lymph nodes might need to be removed if the cancer has metastasized


  • May be used as definitive therapy or after surgery


  • Not typically needed as primary therapy or after surgery with Squamous Cell Carcinoma or Basal Cell Carcinoma
  • More likely to be used In advanced cases of Melanoma or with other medications that modulate the immune system

Patient Photographs

The Ultraviolet (UV) index provides important information to help you plan your outdoor activities and avoid overexposure to the damaging rays of the sun.

Developed by the National Weather Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, the UV index is issued daily as a national service.

The UV index gives the next day’s expected amount of exposure to UV rays. The index predicts UV levels on a 0 to 10+ scale (see chart).

Always take precautions against overexposure, and take special care when the UV index predicts exposure levels of moderate and above (5 to 10+).

Index number     Exposure level                     
0 – 2                          minimal
3 – 4                          low
5 – 6                          moderate
7 – 9                          high
10+                           very high