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What Is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, with millions of people in the U.S. being diagnosed each year. The hands are especially vulnerable since they are frequently exposed to  the sun’s harmful UV rays—a leading cause of skin cancer. By taking the proper precautions to prevent the disease, catching it early, and seeking treatment right away, you are taking an important step towards protecting your overall health. If you have noticed an abnormal growth or mole developing on skin of your hand(s) or upper extremities, schedule a consultation with one of our New York hand surgeons to learn if it may need to be removed.

Types of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is present when the skin cells begin to change and continue to grow in an abnormal way. This leads to a dangerous tumor developing, and if left untreated, these cells can spread across your skin and eventually into your organs (metastasis). The most common types of skin cancer include:

More rare types can include Kaposi’s sarcoma, dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans, sweat gland tumors, and Merkel cell carcinoma.

Signs & Symptoms

Depending on the type of skin cancer you have, your hands may exhibit slightly different symptoms.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC): In SCC the affected area typically looks brown or tan and has a scaly, crusty texture. This rough top layer of skin can create a cone-like bump (cutaneous horn) and lead to bleeding and ulcers. This skin cancer type is often mistaken for a harmless wound that won’t heal. In some patients, the cancer can grow into a large, mushroom-like patch. Those with SCC have a risk of their cancer spreading to their lymph nodes and other areas of the body.

Basal cell carcinoma: These cancerous growths look like a small, defined bump that has a clear, shiny border. They can be flesh-colored, pink, red, or blue. Just like SCC, basal cell carcinomas can turn into an ulcer that won’t heal. However, this type of skin cancer tends to get worse at a slower rate, and rarely spreads throughout the body.

Melanoma: Melanomas look like moles or dark spots and have five main characteristics, also known as the ABCDEs. A is for irregular shape or asymmetry. B is for irregular border. C is for a variety of colors. D is for a diameter larger than 6mm, and E is for an evolving appearance. If you notice a mole having any of these qualities or changing in size, color, or shape with time, you should contact your doctor or dermatologist to schedule a physical exam.


The three main types of skin cancer—squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanoma—have been linked to a number of potential causes.

You are at a higher risk of melanoma, specifically, if you have a family history of the condition, certain types of moles, actinic keratosis, cutaneous horns, or Bowen’s disease.


Being proactive with skin cancer prevention is the best possible way to avoid its dangerous effects. You should wear sunscreen and protective clothes when in the sun, avoid dangerous chemicals (like arsenic), regularly check your skin with a doctor, and monitor any abnormal changes.


The best treatment for your skin cancer will depend on where it’s located, how large it is, and the nature of the growth. To learn if you have skin cancer, you must first schedule an appointment with your doctor to get your skin inspected.

Skin Exam: During this visit, your doctor will go over your history and perform a skin exam. If any areas look abnormal, a sample of the tissue may be taken (biopsy) to get tested for abnormal cells. Should there be any concern over a cancerous growth spreading in the body (metastasis), your doctor may recommend a CT or PET scan.

Surgical Removal: If you receive a skin cancer diagnosis, you will be recommended the best form of treatment for your specific type of skin cancer. Wide excision with removal of the cancer and a margin of normal skin surrounding the area is usually the main part of treatment for any type of skin cancer. If it is a small lesion, this can often be removed with little to no scarring. If it is a larger concern that extends under the skin, a more involved surgery may be needed. Depending on the extent of your condition, radiation and/or chemotherapy may also be recommended. Melanomas often require a lymph node biopsy at the time of cancer removal.

Reconstruction: Although cancerous skin cells can often be completely removed, additional care may be needed to improve the appearance and function of the area, or close wounds related to cancer removal. Our expert plastic and reconstructive hand surgeons can perform additional treatment to help fade significant scars and restore the structure of the area with a skin flap or skin graft as needed. We offer comprehensive treatment of skin cancer and work with other expert dermatologists, pathologist, medical and surgical oncologists to develop a comprehensive treatment plan for each patient.

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