Skin Cancer (Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer)

  • Medical Author:
    Norman Levine, MD

    Dr. Norman Levine, MD, is a dermatologist in active practice in Tucson, Arizona. He has authored four books about skin health and dermatology therapy and contributed to hundreds of articles, several book chapters, and even a CD-ROM. Dr. Levine is a reviewer of dermatological cases for Physicians' Review Network.

  • Medical Editor: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

Skin Cancer Risks

Quick GuideSkin Cancer Signs, Types, Prevention, and Treatment

Skin Cancer Signs, Types, Prevention, and Treatment

When is a mole dangerous or high-risk for becoming a skin cancer?

Moles are almost always harmless and only very rarely turn into skin cancer. If a mole becomes cancerous, it would be a melanoma. There is a precancerous stage, called a dysplastic nevus, that is somewhat more irregular than a normal mole. An early sign of melanoma is noticing a difference in a mole: asymmetry, irregular border, color changes, incresing diameter, or other evolving changes may signify a mole is melanoma. Moles never become squamous cell carcinomas or basal cell carcinomas.

What are the most common sites where skin cancer develops?

Skin cancers typically arise in areas of the skin exposed to the sun repeatedly over many years such as on the face and nose, ears, back of the neck, and the bald area of the scalp. Less commonly, these tumors may appear at sites with only limited sun exposure such as the back, chest, or the extremities. However, skin cancer may occur anywhere on the skin.

How is skin cancer diagnosed?

A skin examination by a dermatologist is the way to get a definitive diagnosis of skin cancer. In many cases, the appearance alone is sufficient to make the diagnosis.

A skin biopsy is usually used to confirm a suspicion of skin cancer. This is performed by numbing the area under the tumor with a local anesthetic such as lidocaine. A small portion of the tumor is sliced away and sent for examination by a pathologist, who examines the tissue under a microscope and renders a diagnosis based on the characteristics of the tumor.

What is the staging for skin cancer?

There is no specific staging system for basal cell carcinoma. If the tumor is wider than 2 cm (about ¾ inch diameter), it is probably a more serious tumor. Basal cell carcinomas of the ears, nose, and eyelid may also be of more concern, regardless of the size.

There is a staging system for squamous cell carcinoma. Tumors that are thicker than 2 mm, invade the nerve structures of the skin, occur on the ear, and have certain worrisome characteristics under the microscope are of more concern. If the tumor metastasizes away from the primary tumor, the cancer is upgraded to a very dangerous tumor.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/3/2016

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