A Guide To Skin Cancer

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What is Skin Cancer?

Cancer develops when cells in part of the body divide and grow out of control. Skin cancer refers to all types of cancer originating in the epidermis, the outermost layer of skin. Though not everything about cancer is understood, unrepaired DNA damage is believed to be the principal reason skin cancer develops.

Skin Cancer Symptoms and Associated Conditions

There are many forms of skin cancer. Some develop slowly and are relatively easy to remove with surgery. Others can spread (metastasize) through the body quickly. Recognizing skin cancer early is the most effective way to prevent it from becoming severe.

Types of skin cancer include:

Basal Cell Carcinoma

These abnormal growths originate in the outermost layer of skin. They can typically be found in areas exposed to the sun, including the ears, neck, scalp, shoulders, and back. As the most common form of skin cancer, about four million cases are diagnosed in the U.S. every year.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

In addition to the areas where basal cell carcinomas are found, squamous cell carcinomas are also fairly common on the face and hands. Tanning beds are a significant factor in their development. Unlike basal cell carcinoma, they can spread quickly and are much more likely to become fatal.


Melanoma develops from the melanocytes that give skin its color. They often look like moles, and can arise from an initially benign mole. They are closely associated with sunburns, and account for about 200,000 U.S. cases annually. Although very dangerous, they can be cured if treated early.

Merkel Cell Carcinoma

This is a rare and aggressive form of skin cancer associated with Merkel cell polyomavirus. Fair-skinned people over age 50 are at greatest risk. It presents as a firm, painless lesion where skin has been exposed to sun – often the head, neck, or eyelids. It carries an extreme risk of spreading.

The DNA damage that gives rise to skin cancer is mainly caused by exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun. Tanning machines that use UV light may also increase risk of skin cancer. Even one severe sunburn makes a person more likely to experience skin cancer later in life.

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Skin Cancer Medication and Treatments

Skin cancer may be treated via excision (surgical removal), prescription creams, chemotherapy, and radiation. Topical skin cancer medication may have significant, temporary effects on immune system function. In general, surgical removal is practiced when possible. If radiation or chemotherapy are needed, the course of treatment may last several months and the patient must be closely monitored for side effects.

Skin Cancer Recovery and Lifestyle Changes

Skin cancer patients are at elevated risk of their condition recurring. They must carefully reduce UV exposure. This often involves using sunscreen and wearing a hat in the sun. Even after skin cancer remission, the patient should remain under a dermatologist’s care. Self-examination on a regular basis is crucial to spotting potential problems, especially for fair-skinned individuals with many moles.

Current Skin Cancer Clinical Trials

Current skin cancer research focuses on new nonsurgical treatments for skin cancer. This list includes all current skin cancer clinical trials known to ClinicalTrials.gov. You are welcome to suggest new entries. To provide details about a new skin cancer clinical trial, just contact our team.


Since some level of UV exposure is unavoidable, people of all ages should be familiar with the risks of skin cancer. By participating in skin cancer clinical trials, patients have the opportunity to contribute to novel skin cancer therapies and skin cancer medications that may save many lives.

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