Patient Education


What is Skin Cancer?

  •  What is Cancer? A term for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and can invade nearby tissues. Cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems. (NCI)
  • What is Skin Cancer? Cancer that forms in tissues of the skin. (NCI)
  • What are the Different Types of Skin Cancer?
    Melanoma: Melanoma is a cancer of the skin.  It begins when color-producing cells called melanocytes become abnormal, grow uncontrollably, and eventually form a tumor. (ASCO)
    Basal cell: Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer.  These cancers arise in the basal cells, which line the deepest layer of the epidermis (top skin layer). (SKF)
    Squamous cell: Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common skin cancer (after basal cell carcinoma).This form of skin cancer arises in the squamous cells that make up most of the skin’s upper layers (epidermis). (SKF)
  • How Many People are Diagnosed Each Year?
    Melanoma:  During 2009 there are an estimated 68,720 new cases of melanoma and 8,650 deaths from melanoma in the United States.
    Basal cell: Approximately one million Americans each year are diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma.
    Squamos cell: More than 250,000 new cases of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) are diagnosed every year in America. (SKF)

How is Skin Cancer Diagnosed?

  • How does My Doctor Know Which Spots to Biopsy?
    ABCDEs of Melanoma:
    Asymmetry: one half unlike the other half.
    Border: irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border.
    Color: Varied color from one area to another.
    Diameter: larger than 6mm or 1/4 inch in diameter.
    Evolving: a change in size, color, shape, elevation, or any new symptom such as bleeding, itching, or crusting. (SKF)
  • What happens to the Biopsy and How do They Know it Contains Cancer? Most biopsies will be sent to Naples Pathology and Associates and sometimes sent to other pathologists who then analyze the sample and determine if it is benign or malignant.
  • What is "Clark's Level"?  The Clark's Level of a melanoma uses a scale of I to V (with higher numbers indicating a deeper melanoma) to describe whether:
    • the cancer stays in the epidermis (Clark's Level I)
    • the cancer has begun to invade the upper dermis (Clark's Level II)
    • the cancer involves most of the upper dermis (Clark's Level III)
    • the cancer has reached the lower dermis (Clark's Level IV)
    • the cancer has invaded to the subcutis (Clark's Level V) (ACS)
  • What are Melanoma Stages?
    Stage 0: In stage 0, abnormal cells are found in the squamous cell or basal cell layer of the epidermis (topmost layer of the skin). These abnormal cells may become cancer and spread into nearby normal tissue. Stage 0 is also called carcinoma in situ.
    Stage I: In stage I, cancer has formed and the tumor is 2 centimeters or smaller.
    Stage II: In stage II, the tumor is larger than 2 centimeters.
    Stage III: In stage III, cancer has spread below the skin to cartilage, muscle, or bone and/or to nearby lymph nodes, but not to other parts of the body.                            
  • Stage IV: In stage IV, cancer has spread to other parts of the body. (ACS)

How is Skin Cancer Treated?

  • How is Basal Cell Carcinoma Treated?
  • How is Squamous Cell Carcinoma Treated?
  • How is Melanoma-in-Situ Treated?
  • How is Melanoma Treated?  Removal of the tumor is the usual treatment for melanoma.  Also during surgery the removal of a margin around the tumor will be removed, which is determined by the thickness and depth of the melanoma.  If the area is large enough, a skin graft may be taken from another area of the body to replace the skin that was removed. 
  • What is involved with Melanoma Surgery and Recovery?
  • What happens if Melanoma is found in a lymph node?

What Happens After Treatment?

  • What Should I do for Follow-up Care?
  • How Should I Handle Outdoor Activity and Being in the Sun?
  • What about My Children? Are They at Higher Risk now that I've Had Skin Cancer?

Where can I go to Learn More about Skin Cancer?


NCI, National Cancer Institute
ASCO, American Society of Clinical Oncology
SKF, The Skin Cancer Foundation
ACS, American Cancer Society