Doctor examining skin cancer patient

Skin cancer

The information on this page was reviewed and approved by
Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science at CTCA.

This page was updated on July 14, 2021.

Skin cancer diagnoses vary widely.
Know your options.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, affecting about 3.5 million Americans each year. Non-melanoma skin cancers, such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, are not likely to spread and may require little more than minor surgery or topical treatment. Melanoma, which accounts for about 1 percent of all skin cancers but is responsible for most skin cancer deaths, may spread (metastasize) through the lymphatic system or bloodstream to other organs. Because occurrence of this disease varies so widely, turning to a team of experts may be essential to understanding your disease and the options available to treat it. The pathologists and oncologists at our cancer hospitals are experts in treating skin cancer.

At Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), our doctors treat cancer every day, giving them the knowledge and experience to help you make informed decisions about your care. Your oncologist may recommend surgery, immunotherapy or targeted therapy, and plastic surgery to restore your function and appearance, if necessary. Your care plan may also include evidence-informed supportive care therapies to help you address skin cancer-related side effects, such as sun sensitivity, skin dryness, itchiness and redness, fatigue, swelling or nausea.

Concerned about your skin cancer risk? Take our five-minute risk assessment, and get an action plan based on your answers.

What you should know after a skin cancer diagnosis

Treatment options

close-up of surgeon with mask and scrubs performing surgery task

Most cases of skin cancer may be treated in a dermatologist's office or with outpatient surgery. But more aggressive skin cancers, such as melanoma or Merkel cell carcinoma, may form tumors and require more extensive treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy or immunotherapy. Your multidisciplinary team of doctors and clinicians at CTCA® will answer your questions and recommend treatment options based on your unique diagnosis.

The most common treatments for skin cancer are:

Most skin cancers are treated with surgery, especially basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, which are typically removed by a dermatologist in as part of an outpatient procedure. More aggressive cancers, such as melanoma, may require more extensive surgeries to remove tumors.

Topical treatments
These nonsurgical forms of therapy include photodynamic therapy, topical chemotherapy and immune response modifiers. They are typically used to treat early-stage basal or squamous cell carcinomas or noncancerous lesions.

Chemotherapy may be an option for patients with advanced skin cancer, such as Merkel cell carcinoma that has spread elsewhere in the body. These anticancer drugs are designed to stop or slow the growth of rapidly dividing tumor cells.

Radiation therapy
Radiation treatments may be recommended after surgery, to kill remaining cancer cells in the area where lymph nodes had been removed. This treatment may also be used for recurrent skin cancer to relieve symptoms or to reduce the spread of the disease (metastasis).

Targeted therapy
Targeted therapy drugs are used to treat melanoma and some non-melanoma skin cancers, such as rare cases of advanced basal cell carcinoma.

Checkpoint inhibitors and cytokines are two types of immunotherapy drugs that may be used to treat some cases of Merkel cell carcinoma and melanoma. The drugs are designed to trigger the immune system to identify and attack cancer cells.

Learn more about treatments for skin cancer

​Supportive care

Many basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas require minimally invasive treatments that come with few side effects, but more advanced stages of the disease may require a more aggressive treatment approach. In those cases, treatments like surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy may cause side effects, including pain, nausea, neuropathy and hair loss, that affect your quality of life. Our supportive care clinicians work with each patient to manage the side effects of the disease and its treatment. Supportive care services that may help skin cancer patients include:


​Oncology rehabilitation

​Oncology rehabilitation includes a wide range of therapies designed to help you build strength and endurance.


Behavioral health

​Our behavioral health support program is designed to support you and your caregivers before, during and after cancer treatment.


​Pain management

Pain management is a branch of medicine focused on reducing pain and improving quality of life through an integrative approach to care.

Learn more
Hector Nunez

Hector N.

Head and Neck Cancer

"I met with my care team to evaluate my specific cancer and discuss treatment. Everyone was so warm, and made us feel safe and at peace. There is simply a wonderful atmosphere of togetherness at the hospital, and I knew it was where I wanted to go for treatment. Later, I learned that is one of the guiding principles of CTCA, the Mother Standard of care—to treat patients as you would any member of your own family."


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