Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer , and although it can be effectively treated when caught early, you should not ignore mysterious skin imperfections, bumps, lesions, and discolorations that develop. The causes and symptoms vary, so a true evaluation of any skin irregularity especially one that is changing must be done by a board certified dermatologist, especially one who specializes in skin cancer.

Causes And Risk Factors Of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer results from an accumulation of damage from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Additional factors that can contribute to the disease include a compromised immune system or exposure to harmful substances such as toxins or radiation.

Other risks include:

  • Skin cancer history in the family
  • Numerous sunburns
  • Fair skin
  • Moles or precancerous skin lesions (e.g., actinic keratosis)
  • Climates that are sunny
  • High-altitude locations
  • Recreational outdoor activities
  • Professional outdoor activities

More Than One Type Of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer develops due to a mutation of skin cell DNA in the epidermis or the top layer of the skin.

There are three major types to be aware of:

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)

*Disclaimer: Results vary from patient to patient. Results are not guaranteed.

This develops in the squamous cells just under the surface of the skin, particularly in areas commonly exposed to the sun, such as the face, arms, hands, legs or ears. SCC is distinguished by a flat, crusted lesion or a scaly, firm reddish skin nodule that may bleed.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)

This is the most common type, which develops in the basal cell layer just beneath the squamous cells. BCC usually forms in areas prone to sun exposure such as the face, neck, nose, or ears, and it often appears as a bump with a waxy appearance or a flat lesion with a scar-like appearance which may ulcerate.


The deadliest type, it forms in cells called melanocytes, which are found in the bottom layer of the epidermis. A melanoma is different from the other two cancers because it usually forms in areas that don’t see the sun. It manifests as a multi-colored black, blue, red, tan and/or brown spot, a mole that bleeds, a change in color or an abnormally-shaped lesion. 

There is also a precancerous lesion called actinic keratosis (AK), which is a rough, scaly, reddish lesion that develops on the face, arms, or anywhere exposed to a lot of sunshine. While AK is not life-threatening, the lesion may turn cancerous over time if left untreated.

Skin Cancer Screening And Diagnosis

The National Cancer Institute states that 20 percent of Americans and over 59% who live in the Southern USA—regardless of skin color, skin type, ethnicity, or race—will have skin cancer at some point. For those with symptoms, a skin cancer screening by a medical professional at our Skin Cancer Center can detect the disease early enough for an easy successful treatment.

In fact, a screening is useful for those lacking symptoms yet, due to risk factors such as frequent sun exposure, are at a higher risk of skin cancer.

Skin Cancer Treatment Options

Once skin cancer has been diagnosed, various types of treatments are available, but which treatment is chosen depends on both cancer type and the patient’s overall health.

Common treatment options include the following:

Mohs surgery – A precise procedure known as Mohs micrographic surgery has been in practice for decades and remains the most common treatment method because the cure rate is very high.

Excision – The targeted growth is removed with a sharp surgical razor in one of two ways: excisional biopsy (full removal) and shave excision (a less invasive method for removal of superficial lesions).

Cryotherapy – Super-cooled liquid nitrogen, between -346° F and -320° F, is used to destroy diseased cells without damaging the adjacent tissue.

Electrodesiccation with curettage – An older treatment that is particularly effective for small squamous cell carcinoma or basal cell carcinoma on the chest or back. In this procedure, a curette is used to scrape off cancerous tissue. Then the wound is closed with the superheating properties of electrodescication.

Topical medications – Effective topical treatments include 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), an at-home treatment that destroys superficial cancerous cells, and Imiquimod (IMQ), a new type of medication that triggers the immune system into destroying the malignant tissue. Picato™ can also be used for superficial skin cancer treatment as well as photodynamic therapy (see below).Actinic Keratosis And Photodynamic Therapy

Actinic keratosis is a pre-cancerous skin lesion resulting from direct sun exposure. It commonly appears on the face, ears, back of the hands, and other sun-kissed areas of the body. It resembles an age spot but is scaly, reddish and feels rough to the touch. In fact, it is often felt before it is seen. It commonly starts out pink before darkening into a reddish-brown.

Actinic keratosis, left untreated, increases the risk of skin cancer. 

Mohs Surgery: Precision Cancer Treatment

Everyday Preventative Measures

Follow these common, practical tips for skin cancer prevention in San Diego:

  • Avoid prolonged sun exposure from 10 am to 3 pm
  • Apply 30+ SPF broad-spectrum sunscreen daily
  • Wear skin-protecting long pants, long-sleeve shirts, or wide-brimmed hats
  • Avoid tanning beds
  • Examine your skin regularly

Skin cancer is preventable and highly treatable, especially when diagnosed early. Learn more by contacting us