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At Houston Methodist Cancer Center, our skin cancer specialists have extensive expertise diagnosing and treating all types of skin cancer, including basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas and melanoma. We provide advanced skin cancer care at seven locations across the Greater Houston area, allowing you or your loved one to receive treatment close to home or work.
Why Choose Houston Methodist for Skin Cancer Treatment
Our specialists, nurses and staff ensure each person receives expert cancer care in an environment that's compassionate and supported by a team-based approach and research.
The benefits of choosing our skin cancer care team include:
- Care provided by medical, surgical and radiation oncologists who work together to guarantee your treatment is tailored to your unique condition and lifestyle needs
- Advanced diagnostics and treatment options, including minimally invasive procedures, immunotherapy and targeted therapy
- Reconstructive surgeons who restore form and function lost due to skin cancer or its treatment
- Oncology nurse navigators who guide you through your skin cancer care — from diagnosis through survivorship
- Access to clinical trials offering potentially promising skin cancer treatments not available to the general public
- Support through and beyond your recovery
- Routine screening for people who have a family history of skin cancer
Our experts are also dedicated to skin cancer research, enabling us to improve present and future cancer care.
About Skin Cancers
What Causes Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. If left unchecked, these cancer cells can spread from the skin into other tissues and organs.
Skin cancer is by far the most common form of cancer in the U.S., and it is a growing health issue. Each year, more than 2 million people are diagnosed with skin cancer — more than the combined incidence of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers.
Skin cancer risk factors include:
- Personal or family history of skin cancer
- Frequent or intense exposure to sunlight
- Use of UV lamps or tanning booths
- History of severe, blistering sunburns
- Having fair skin that sunburns easily
- Use of certain antibiotics, hormones or antidepressants
It is important to be aware of any skin cancer risk factors you may have and modify or eliminate them when possible. Keep in mind that having one or more risk factors does not mean that you will definitely get skin cancer, and having no risk factors does not mean that you cannot develop it.
What Are the Types of Skin Cancer?
There are several types of skin cancer. The most common types are:
- Basal cell carcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma
Basal and squamous cell carcinomas are highly curable. Melanoma is the most serious. Like basal cell and squamous cell cancers, melanoma is almost always curable when diagnosed in its early stages. But melanoma is much more likely than other skin cancer types to spread aggressively to other parts of the body if not detected early.
Common sites of skin cancer include the face and neck, although it can occur anywhere on the skin. For melanoma, the most common sites are the chest and back in men and legs in women.
Can Skin Cancer Be Prevented?
Skin cancer prevention is important.
Take the following measures to dramatically reduce your risk of developing skin cancer:
- Limit your sun exposure and stay in the shade whenever possible, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Avoid UV lamps and tanning booths.
- Apply a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 every day.
- Cover up with long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and wear a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
- When outdoors, apply water-resistant, broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher — especially if you will be in the water or sweating.
- Apply sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours, or immediately after swimming, sweating or toweling off.
- Keep newborns out of the sun and use sunscreen on babies older than six months.
It's also important to examine your skin head-to-toe every month and see your doctor once a year for a professional skin exam. If you notice something that looks unusual during a skin cancer self-exam, have it checked immediately by a dermatologist — do not wait for your next annual exam with your doctor.
What Does Skin Cancer Screening Entail?
Skin cancer screening starts with a head-to-toe self-examination that you perform at home once a month. This can help detect any precancerous or cancerous lesions at an early stage.
Dermatologists recommend following the ABCDE guidelines during your monthly skin cancer self-exam:
- Asymmetry – one half of the mole does not match the other half
- Border – the border or edges of the mole are ragged, blurred or irregular
- Color – the color of the mole differs throughout or has shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white or red
- Diameter – the diameter of a mole is larger than the eraser of a pencil
- Evolution – the mole is changing in size, shape or color
If a mole displays any of the signs listed above, have it checked immediately by a dermatologist.
If you have a personal or family history of skin cancer, you will also want to see a dermatologist once a year for a complete skin checkup. This usually takes about 15 minutes and includes a medical history review as well as a head-to-toe examination. Make sure to call your doctor’s attention to any irregular spots you may have noticed in your last monthly skin cancer self-exam.
What Are the Skin Cancer Symptoms to Watch Out For?
The most important sign of skin cancer is a new spot on the skin or a spot that is changing in size, shape or color. Another important sign is a spot that looks different from all of the other spots on your skin. If you have any of these warning signs — all of which can be found through a skin cancer self-exam — have your skin checked by a doctor.
Skin cancers can occur anywhere on the skin, but the neck and face are common sites. Melanomas are also commonly found on the chest and back in men and the legs in women.
Early detection of skin cancer through self- or professional examination is extremely important. This is especially urgent for melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer. Melanoma can be found in or under your skin, hair and nails, which can make its discovery very difficult.
How Is Skin Cancer Diagnosed?
If an abnormal area of your skin raises the suspicion of skin cancer, your doctor will perform exams and tests to find out if it is melanoma, non-melanoma skin cancer or some other skin condition. If melanoma is confirmed, other tests may be done to determine if it has spread to other areas of the body.
The exams and tests will likely include any or all of these steps:
- Medical history and physical exam – includes gathering information about your personal and family history and a physical examination
- Skin biopsy – a sample of skin from the suspicious area is taken and analyzed more closely under a microscope
- Other biopsies that may be needed – may include samples of lymph nodes or other areas if there is concern that the cancer has spread
- Imaging tests – X-rays, CT scans and other tests may be used to determine the possible spread of the skin cancer
Imaging tests may also be used throughout your care plan to determine if treatment is working.
What Are the Skin Cancer Treatment Options?
Learn more about how our experts treat skin cancer >