Skin cancer

Overview

Skin cancer is a malignant tumor that grows in the skin cells.

There are three main types of skin cancer, including:

  • Basal cell carcinoma - Basal cell carcinoma accounts for approximately 80 percent of all skin cancers. This highly treatable cancer starts in the basal cell layer of the epidermis (the top layer of skin) and grows very slowly. Basal cell carcinoma usually appears as a small, shiny bump or nodule on the skin, mainly those areas exposed to the sun, such as the head, neck, arms, hands, and face. It most commonly occurs among people with light-colored eyes, hair, and complexion.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma - Squamous cell carcinoma, although more aggressive than basal cell carcinoma, is highly treatable. It accounts for about 20 percent of all skin cancers. Squamous cell carcinoma may appear as nodules or red, scaly patches of skin, and may be found on sun-exposed areas such as the face, ears, lips, and mouth. However, if left untreated, squamous cell carcinoma can spread to other parts of the body. This type of skin cancer is usually found in fair-skinned people.
  • Malignant melanoma - Malignant melanoma accounts for a small percentage of all skin cancers, but accounts for most deaths from skin cancer. Malignant melanoma starts in the melanocytes--cells that produce pigment in the skin. Malignant melanomas sometimes begin as an abnormal mole that then turns cancerous. This cancer may spread quickly. Malignant melanoma most often appears on fair-skinned men and women, but people with all skin types may be affected.

Our approach

Highlights of skin cancer treatments and services at Northwell Health include:

  • A continuum of care that includes many support services and collaboration with local and regional dermatology practices
  • Sophisticated surgical and reconstructive techniques
  • Mohs skin cancer surgery
  • Cutting-edge approaches to delivering immunotherapy and chemotherapy
  • Precision radiation techniques — such as stereotactic radiation therapy and intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) — that protect healthy tissue while targeting diseased areas

Multidisciplinary Skin Cancer Treatment

The multidisciplinary team at Northwell Health is experienced in complex, high-risk cancers. Within the first several days of a visit, the team will conduct comprehensive tests and develop a personalized melanoma cancer treatment program.

Each diagnosis is unique, so the team meets regularly to discuss patient treatment. The specialists review each treatment phase to constantly improve skin cancer care and ensure treatment milestones are reached. 

Risk factors

Skin cancer is more common in fair-skinned people, especially those with blond or red hair, who have light-colored eyes. Skin cancer is rare in children. However, no one is safe from skin cancer. Other risk factors include:

  • Family history of melanoma
  • Personal history of skin cancer
  • Sun exposure. The amount of time spent unprotected in the sun directly affects the risk of skin cancer.
  • Early childhood sunburns. Research has shown that sunburns early in life increase a person's risk for skin cancer later in life.
  • Many freckles
  • Large or many ordinary moles
  • Dysplastic nevi
  • Male gender
  • An immunosuppressive disorder or weakened immune system (such as in people who have had organ transplants) 
  • Exposure to certain chemicals, like arsenic
  • Radiation exposure
  • Smoking
  • HPV (human papillomavirus)
  • Certain rare inherited conditions, such as basal cell nevus syndrome (Gorlin syndrome), or xeroderma pigmentosum (XP) 

Learn more about our skin cancer screening services

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