Skip to content

What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is the growth of abnormal cells at an uncontrolled and unpredictable rate. As the cancer cells grow, they destroy the surrounding normal tissue. Skin cancer, if left untreated, can invade and destroy fat, muscle, cartilage, and bone.


Types of Skin Cancer

The most common skin cancers are:

  • Basal Cell Carcinoma rarely spreads beyond the site of the original growth but can grow larger and deeper.
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma – rarely spreads beyond the site of the original growth.
  • Melanoma – affects cells called melanocytes, which create the pigment that colors skin, and is likely to spread to other parts of the body if not treated early.

Skin cancers originate in the top layer of the skin but sometimes grow downward, forming "roots" under the skin's surface. At times, these growths can be seen only with a microscope. What you see on your skin is sometimes only a small portion of the total tumor (like the tip of an iceberg).

What Are the Signs of Skin Cancer?

Be sure to check your skin regularly for signs of skin cancer, such as:

  • Any change in appearance of an existing mole or blemish, including:
  1. Size
  2. Shape
  3. Texture
  • Appearance of a new mole or a sore that doesn't heal

Report any unusual findings to your primary care provider or dermatologist.

Risk Factors

There are many factors that can increase the risk of developing skin cancers, including:

  • Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation
    • Sunlight
    • Tanning beds
    • Sun lamps
  • Having a fair complexion, skin that freckles or burns easily, or light-colored hair
  • Weakened immune system
  • Older age

Risk factors for melanoma also include:

  • Personal and family history of melanoma
  • Atypical, large or numerous moles
  • Having a history of blistering sunburns

Learn more about skin cancer and its treatment.

Wilmot Cancer Institute

UR Medicine's Treatments for Skin Cancer

Because there are several types of skin cancer, different therapies may be required. A biopsy—taking a tiny skin sample to analyze—is usually done.

Treatments for skin cancers include:

  • Surgical removal and stitching (excision)
  • Scraping with a sharp instrument (curettage)
  • Freezing (cryosurgery)
  • X-rays (radiation therapy)
  • Topical creams

Melanoma is usually treated with surgical removal.

For some skin cancers, these treatments give a success rate of greater than 90%. However, the success rate in treating recurrent skin cancer — a cancer that returns after one of the above-mentioned treatments — is only about 70 to 80% using conventional treatment methods and may be as low as 50% for more aggressive skin cancers.

For these types of cancers, and for those in delicate locations such as the face, Mohs Micrographic Surgery is utilized. The procedure, which removes multiple horizontal layers of the skin cancer, has a success rate for recurrent and/or aggressive cancers of 95% or better.

What Sets Us Apart?

UR Medicine’s Surgery and Dermatology Departments have been pioneers in the field for decades. As part of an academic health system, we have access to cutting-edge technology and treatments that enable us to deliver the highest level of care.

UR Medicine's Wilmot Cancer Institute provides world-class cancer treatment and care and conducts pivotal research. The goal is to prevent and conquer cancer through innovation in science, patient care, education, and community outreach.


Our care team is here for you. Find a UR Medicine expert and get care now.

View Providers


We serve you in the Rochester metropolitan area and surrounding region.

1 location

Dermatology - Red Creek - Henrietta

Red Creek (Calkins Corporate Park)
400 Red Creek Drive, Suite 200
Rochester, NY 14623

Clinical Trials

Want to participate in a study? Search the open clinical trials at Wilmot Cancer Institute.

Open Clinical Trials

Related Services & Conditions