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Skin Cancers & Melanoma of the Skin

Quick Facts

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. Each year, more than 68,000 Americans are diagnosed with melanoma, and another 48,000 are diagnosed with an early form of the disease that involves only the top layer of skin. Also, more than 2 million people are treated for basal cell or squamous cell skin cancer each year. Basal cell skin cancer is several times more common than squamous cell skin cancer.  Risk factors for developing these types of skin cancer include severe, blistering sunburns, lifetime sun exposure, tanning, a personal or family history of skin cancer, skin that burns easily, and the use of certain medications (some antibiotics, hormones, antidepressants, immunosuppressants).

Specialized Physicians:
Kendra Feeney, MD *
Michael Mastrangelo, MD *
Takami Sato, MD *

*Practice Focus: Melanoma

For further information contact:
Thomas Jefferson University Hospital
www.jeffersonhospital.org/cancer

Definition

Melanoma begins in melanocytes (pigment cells). Basal cell skin cancer begins in the basal cell layer of the skin. It usually occurs in places that have been in the sun. Squamous cell skin cancer begins in squamous cells. In people with dark skin, squamous cell skin cancer is the most common type of skin cancer, and it’s usually found in places that are not in the sun, such as the legs or feet. However, in people with fair skin, squamous cell skin cancer usually occurs on parts of the skin that have been in the sun, such as the head, face, ears, and neck.

Stages of Melanoma

Stage 0: The melanoma involves only the top layer of skin. It is called melanoma in situ.

Stage I: The tumor is no more than 1 millimeter thick (about the width of the tip of a sharpened pencil.) The surface may appear broken down. Or, the tumor is between 1 and 2 millimeters thick, and the surface is not broken down.

Stage II: The tumor is between 1 and 2 millimeters thick, and the surface appears broken down. Or, the thickness of the tumor is more than 2 millimeters, and the surface may appear broken down.

Stage III: The melanoma cells have spread to at least one nearby lymph node. Or, the melanoma cells have spread from the original tumor to tissues nearby.

Stage IV: Cancer cells have spread to the lung or other organs, skin areas, or lymph nodes far away from the original growth. Melanoma commonly spreads to other parts of the skin, tissue under the skin, lymph nodes, and lungs. It can also spread to the liver, brain, bones, and other organs.

Treatment

Surgery is the usual treatment for people with skin cancer. In some cases, the doctor may suggest chemotherapy, photodynamic therapy, or radiation therapy. People with melanoma may also have biological therapy.

Reference: National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/melanoma