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Skin Cancer

Skin Cancer Symptoms and Causes

The North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute has a team of specialists who focus on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of skin cancer. Dermatologists, surgical and medical oncologists, plastic surgeons, radiation oncologists and pathologists collaborate to provide the highest quality of care for the diagnosis, treatment and support to people with skin cancer.

We offer many unique treatments that provide successful outcomes while maximizing quality of life for our patients.

Skin Cancer: An Overview

Skin cancer, by far the most common malignant tumor in humans, is an abnormal growth of cells that expands in an unpredictable pattern on the skin. The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma — each named for the particular skin cell from which it arises.

Both basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma begin as a single point in the upper layers of the skin and slowly enlarge, spreading along the surface and downward. These extensions cannot always be directly seen. The tumor often extends far beneath the surface of the skin. If not completely removed, both types of skin cancer may invade and destroy structures in their path.

Although these skin cancers are locally destructive, they do not tend to metastasize (spread) to distant parts of the body. Metastasis is extremely rare in basal cell carcinoma and usually occurs only with long-standing, large tumors. Squamous cell carcinoma is slightly more dangerous, and patients must be observed for any spread of the tumor, although it is unlikely.

What Causes Skin Cancer?

Excessive exposure to sunlight is the single most important factor associated with the development of skin cancer. In addition, the tendency to develop these cancers appears hereditary in certain ethnic groups, especially those with fair complexions and poor tanning abilities. Fair-skinned people develop skin cancers more frequently than dark-skinned people; the more sun exposure they receive, the more likely they are to develop a skin cancer.

How Is Skin Cancer Treated?

There are several methods for treatment including excision (surgical removal), curettage and electrodessication (scraping and burning), X-ray therapy, cryosurgery (freezing) and topical chemotherapy. The method chosen depends on the location of the cancer, its size, type and previous treatment.

Skin Cancer Clinical Trials

The North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute offers a full array of clinical trials, including GOG trials. The result of this research not only impacts survival, but also enhances the quality of life. Learn more about Clinical Trials.

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