Skin cancer is by far the most commonly diagnosed cancer: more than 2 million cases in the U.S. every year. Most skin cancers are found in older people on areas of the skin that has been exposed to the sun or in people with weakened immune systems. There are four main types of skin cancer:

  • Melanoma forms in pigment-producing skin cells
  • Basal cell carcinoma forms in the deepest level of the outer layer of the skin
  • Squamous cell carcinoma forms in the flat cells that make up the surface of the skin
  • Neuroendocrine carcinoma forms in cells that release hormones in response to signals from the nervous system


This information is not intended as a diagnostic tool. Please see your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

Basal cell carcinomas

on the head or neck may look like a paler area of skin or a translucent bump. You might see an indentation or blood vessels in the center of the bump. A carcinoma on the chest may look more like a scar or flesh-colored lesion. Left untreated, the cancer may bleed, ooze and become crusty.

Squamous cell carcinomas

may first appear as a firm lump with a rough surface or a reddish scaly patch that does not go away. This type of cancer usually develops on the head, neck, hands or arms, but may also appear in the genital region or in scars or skin sores.


Look for new spots on the skin, or a change in size, shape or color of an existing mole. The ABCD rule can help you remember how to recognize abnormal growths:

  • A for Asymmetry: A mole with an irregular shape or halves that don’t match.
  • B for Border: Irregular, blurred, rough or notched edges
  • C for Color: Uneven color, changes in the shade or distribution of color throughout a mole
  • D for Diameter: Moles larger than ¼ inch across (about the size of a pencil eraser) may indicate melanoma, but these cancers can also be smaller

Other signs of melanoma in a mole:

  • A sore that does not heal
  • Color, redness or swelling that continues outside the border of a spot into the surrounding skin Itchiness, tenderness or pain
  • Changes in texture, scaly texture, oozing or bleeding

Non-Melanoma Skin Cancers

  • Surgery/Removal by cutting, shaving, freezing, electrodessication (destroying cancer cells with an electrical current), laser, or dermabrasion (“sanding off” the top layer of skin)
  • Topical Chemotherapy or drugs in the form of creams or lotions applied to the affected area
  • Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) is combination of a drug and laser. The drug “marks” the cancer cells for the laser to destroy with minimal damage to surrounding tissue.
  • Biologic Therapy employs the body’s natural immune system to fight the cancer cells. Biologic agents are injected or applied as a cream or lotion.


  • Surgery is the primary treatment of all stages of melanoma.
  • Wide local excision: removal of the cancer and some of the normal tissue around it. Some lymph nodes may also be removed.
  • Lymphadenectomy: lymph nodes are removed to be examined for signs of cancer
  • Sentinel lymph node biopsy: dye injected near the tumor travels to the lymph nodes. The first node that receives the dye is the “sentinel node.” It is removed for analysis.
  • Monoclonal antibody therapy This therapy uses antibodies made from a single type of immune system cell. The antibodies target the substances in cancer cells that make them grow, either killing the cancer or blocking further growth.
  • Signal transduction inhibitor therapy These substances disrupt the signals that pass from one molecule to another inside a cell. The disruption may kill cancer cells.
  • Oncolytic virus therapy This virus infects cancer cells and breaks them down without harm to normal cells. Radiation therapy or chemotherapy may be combined with virus therapy for greater effect.
  • Angiogenesis inhibitors: A targeted therapy that blocks the growth of new blood vessels that feed tumors.


Continuing advances in melanoma research are bringing new skin cancer treatment options and more effective therapies to the battle against this disease.

Protein Blockers

Some melanoma cells have a protein called PD-L1 on their surface that helps them evade the immune system. Scientists are working on drugs that block the protein (or the PD-1 protein on immune cells called T cells) to help the immune system identify and attack melanoma cells

Melanoma vaccines

Introducing weakened melanoma cells or particular cell substances into the patient’s body may stimulate the immune system to kill the melanoma cells. Studies are investigating the efficacy of this therapy.


Researchers are studying genes that may change normal skin cells into melanoma cells. Drugs that target these genes are in development and some have been approved for treating advanced melanoma.

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