Doctor examining skin cancer patient

Skin cancer

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on July 20, 2022.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. Each year, about 3.5 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed. 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.

No skin cancer patient is the same. Get personalized treatment.

At City of Hope, 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.

This overview will cover the basic facts about skin cancer, including:

If you believe you may be experiencing symptoms of skin cancer and want to schedule an appointment for diagnostic testing, or if you’re interested in a second opinion on your skin cancer diagnosis and treatment plan, call us or chat online with a member of our team.

What causes skin cancer?

Who gets skin cancer?

Caucasians are at greater risk of developing cancer than people with darker skin. The risk of skin cancer is also higher for individuals with blond or red hair, blue or green eyes, or fair skin that burns or freckles easily.

Skin cancer risks increase as you age, likely due to accumulated UV radiation from sun exposure.

People who live in areas with bright, year-round sun exposure, or those who spend a lot of time outdoors without sun protection or sunscreen, are at greater risk. Early exposure, particularly for people who had frequent sunburns during childhood, also increases skin cancer risks. Skin cancers may also be found in younger individuals who spend a lot of time in the sun. Doctors often recommend a broad-spectrum sunblock with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher and protective clothing as forms of skin cancer prevention.

Men are twice as likely to develop basal cell carcinomas and three times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinomas than women.


Marsha M.


"My medical oncologist outlined the plan, but then informed me that sometimes it takes a few days for insurance to approve everything, so they would call us when they heard back. We left the hospital, and almost immediately City of Hope called. They had already gotten insurance approval. City of Hope understands the importance of speed to care, and I started immunotherapy that day!"


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Skin cancer types

Common types of skin cancer include:

  • Basal cell carcinoma (BCC), which accounts for more than 80 percent of skin cancers diagnosed each year and tends to develop on parts of the body with the most sun exposure
  • Recurrent basal cell carcinoma, either in the same location or elsewhere in the body
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), which is more likely than basal cell carcinoma to invade fatty tissue beneath the skin
  • Melanoma, which forms in melanocytes, the skin cells that produce the brown pigment known as melanin and darken when exposed to the sun
  • Merkel cell carcinoma, which forms in cells that give skin its sense of touch and may metastasize to the brain, bones, liver or lung
  • Kaposi sarcoma (KS), which is caused by human herpesvirus 8 and develops in the blood vessels of the skin
  • Actinic keratosis, which is a precancerous growth that may develop into squamous cell carcinoma
  • Lymphoma of the skin, also called cutaneous lymphoma, which is a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Keratoacanthoma, typically a benign (non-cancerous) tumor that goes away on its own, but is treated like squamous cell skin cancers if it continues to grow

Learn more about skin cancer types

Skin cancer symptoms

Diagnosing skin cancer

Diagnosing skin cancer usually begins with a visual examination. The Skin Cancer Foundation and the American Cancer Society recommend monthly self-examinations and annual doctor visits to screen for potential skin cancer. If you are being seen by a primary care physician, you may be referred to a dermatologist who can perform more specialized tests and make a diagnosis.

A dermatologist may use a special microscope or magnifying lens to examine the suspicious spot more closely, a process called dermatoscopy. In many cases, the skin cancer is removed in the dermatologist’s office.

Tests used to diagnose skin cancer include:

Learn more about diagnostic procedures for skin cancer

Skin cancer treatments

Our approach to helping you maintain your quality of life

Most cases of skin cancer can be treated in a dermatologist’s office or with outpatient surgery. But more aggressive skin cancers, such as melanoma or Merkel cell carcinoma, may require more extensive treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy or immunotherapy.

At City of Hope, our board-certified surgical oncologists have years of training and experience treating aggressive and advanced-stage skin cancers. If the location and extent of the surgery required to remove skin cancer requires further procedures to restore function or improve the appearance of the area treated, our reconstructive plastic surgeons will meet with you to go over your options.

As part of our whole-person approach to care, your care team will also include supportive care providers who will work with you—before, during and after treatment—to manage, and when possible prevent, cancer- and treatment-related side effects. If you’re experiencing pain after surgery, for example, a board-certified pain management physician may prescribe pain medications or offer non-narcotic strategies like nerve blocks to help you find relief.

Because your care team works all under one roof, you have access to a team of physicians, practitioners and support staff who can tailor treatments and supportive therapies to your specific needs, all in real time.