Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. If you’re one of millions of people diagnosed with skin cancer every year, you might feel overwhelmed and unsure what to do next. It’s important to know that it’s also one of the most treatable types of cancer.
We’re here to help. Our dermatologists are able to treat most types of skin cancer, especially when they’re detected early. Together, we’ll work with you to get you answers, discuss how you’re feeling and start you on a personalized treatment plan. For more complex cases, our dermatologists work closely with our oncologists to make sure you get the specialized care you need during every step of your skin cancer treatment.
At HealthPartners and Park Nicollet, our team of board-certified dermatologists, Mohs surgeons, oncologists and other specialists provide a team-based approach to treatment for all types of skin cancer.
We’re part of the largest dermatology practice in the region, including the largest group of Mohs surgeons. With modern cancer centers and clinics in Minnesota and western Wisconsin, the latest in cancer treatment is always close to home.
Skin cancer can often be identified by noticing a change to the appearance of your skin. While it’s important to remember that not all changes to your skin are cancerous, there are common early-stage skin cancer signs to watch for:
- Asymmetrical moles
- Moles that change over time
- Moles with a border, irregular color or larger than a dime
- Pink or red nodules
- Raised red patch that may itch
- Rough and scaly red skin patches that may bleed or crust
- Small pink shiny bump that might have blue, brown or black areas
- Translucent bumps
- Wart-like growths
In addition to these visual signs, you should also watch for what your skin feels like. Some types of skin cancer spread along the nerves and can cause itching, pain, numbness or tingling. These symptoms aren’t as common, but are not something you should ignore.
If you haven’t talked to a doctor about your skin concerns before, we recommend starting with one of our primary care doctors. Our primary care doctors are experts at diagnosing hundreds of conditions and can help get you answers quickly. If you need specialized care, we’ll connect you directly with one of our dermatologists.
How do you know if you have skin cancer? We start with a physical exam to check your skin and look for signs of cancer. Often, further testing is needed and some commonly used tests include:
A biopsy is the most common test used to diagnose skin cancer. During a biopsy, a small amount of tissue is removed so it can be examined under a microscope. Biopsies are minimally invasive and are typically performed in one of our clinics. We’ll often use local anesthetic to numb your skin and help keep you comfortable during the procedure.
Tests like X-rays, ultrasounds and MRIs can help your doctor see inside your body. These tests are non-invasive and use radiation, soundwaves or magnetic fields to get detailed pictures, if needed.
We treat all types of skin cancer, including complex conditions like Merkel cell skin cancer, lymphoma of the skin and Kaposi sarcoma. While there are many different types of skin cancer, the most common types are:
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. About 80% of all skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas. It’s most likely to occur on parts of the skin that are exposed to the sun, especially the face and neck. This type of skin cancer grows slowly and is unlikely to spread to other parts of the body. However, if left untreated, basal cell carcinoma can spread to deeper layers of the skin or bones. Basal cell carcinoma is most often treated with surgery to remove all of the cancer and some of the healthy tissue around it.
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer. Around 20% of skin cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. Like basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma is more likely to affect your face, neck and other parts of the skin that are exposed to the sun. It might also occur in scars, chronic sores or actinic keratosis. Squamous cell carcinoma grows slowly but is more likely to spread to deeper layers of your skin than basal cell carcinoma. Most squamous cell carcinomas can be removed with surgery or a medicine applied to the skin.
Melanoma is much less common than basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma, but it’s much more likely to spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma is a type of cancer that affects the melanocytes, the skin cells that make the pigment that gives your skin a brown or tan color. Melanoma tumors are usually brown or black. While melanoma most commonly starts on the trunk or legs, it can spread to other body parts like eyes, mouth and genitals.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer and roughly one in five Americans will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer in their lifetime.
Advancements in cancer research have found that each person’s response to skin cancer treatment is unique. We recognize that no two people will respond to treatment in the same way, so we work closely with you to create a personalized treatment plan. Depending on the type of skin cancer and the stage, a combination of several types of treatment options may be needed. Our oncologists and dermatologists will work together to find the most effective combination for you. Some common skin cancer treatment options include:
Mohs micrographic surgery is most commonly used to treat basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma. It’s a surgical procedure that removes skin cancer cells layer by layer and it has the highest cure rate of all skin cancer removal methods.
Chemotherapy, often called “chemo,” uses strong medicine to kill cancerous cells. It’s commonly used to shrink tumors or stop them from growing.
We might recommend topical chemotherapy or systemic chemotherapy to treat your cancer. Topical chemotherapy is an ointment or cream that’s applied directly to your skin. Systemic chemotherapy medicines are taken orally or through an IV. It treats cancer cells throughout your entire body and might be recommended if cancer has spread.
Radiation therapy uses beams of intense energy to destroy cancer cells or slow their growth in affected areas of the body. Cancer cells are different from healthy cells because they aren’t able to heal damage caused by radiation. Radiation therapy is often used along with other treatments like surgery or chemotherapy.
This relatively new treatment, sometimes called biotherapy, uses medicines that kick-start your body’s natural immune response to cancer. There are different types of immunotherapy treatments. Some give your immune system an overall boost and some help your immune system specifically target cancer cells. Immunotherapy is often used alongside other treatment options for the best results.
This type of therapy targets cancer cells directly with the use of powerful medicines. The goal is to change the behavior of the cancer cells, like stop them from growing, blocking the signals within the cell or killing them. Targeted therapy damages fewer healthy cells because it primarily targets cancer cells.
In order to remove the cancerous tissue, we might recommend that you have a procedure or surgery. We perform many different procedures, including cryosurgeries where affected tissue is frozen off with the use of liquid nitrogen. We’ll talk to you about which procedure is the most effective treatment for you.
Skin cancer is preventable, and if caught early, often curable. Simple changes in your lifestyle and routine can help you protect yourself and prevent skin cancer. Start by:
- Applying a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. When outdoors reapply every two hours, or after swimming or sweating.
- Staying in the shade during peak sun times, the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Wearing sun-protective clothing, with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) tag.
- Avoiding tanning beds. If you want to look tan, consider a self-tanning product in addition to regular sunscreen use.
- Being cautious of medications that make your skin more sensitive to the sun.
- Doing regular skin checks, and seeing a dermatologist if you notice new or suspicious spots on your skin.
During your cancer treatment, we help make sure that you and your family feel as comfortable and supported as possible. To do this, we offer a wide-range of services as part of personalized treatment plans, including:
Integrative therapies are supporting treatments some people choose to have in addition to their cancer treatments. They’re used to reduce the side effects of cancer treatments and improve your overall emotional and spiritual well-being. Common types of integrative therapies include massage, healing touch, reflexology, music therapy and acupuncture.
Palliative care helps improve the quality of life for people with advanced stages of cancer. Palliative care works alongside medical care to keep you comfortable and provide additional support. Our specialized palliative care team works closely with our oncology department so the support you need during your illness is easily accessible. Our palliative care team will help you understand your treatments, do daily activities, coordinate communication with your doctor and can perform other services to help support you and your family.
Good nutrition is needed to support the increased demands on your body while you heal. The benefits include preserving muscle mass, a healthy immune system, fewer complications and a better quality of life. We’ll recommend different nutrition guidelines to you depending on your type of cancer, stage of cancer or treatment plan. Our registered nutritionists can provide nutrition counseling to help with managing weight changes, dealing with side effects of treatment and navigating nutrition recommendations.
Cancer develops by chance, but people with a family history of cancer might be at a higher risk. It’s possible to have a gene mutation that can be passed from generation to generation. A genetic counselor can meet with you to go over your personal or family history of cancer and help you understand your hereditary risks. If you have questions about genetic counseling or want to know if genetic counseling is right for you, please ask your care team.
Cancer can change the way your body functions. What used to be easy might become more difficult because of fatigue, joint pain, stiffness, weakness, numbing or swelling. Some people might even develop difficulty thinking, balancing, speaking or swallowing. Cancer rehabilitation is a type of treatment that helps you improve your function and ability to do daily activities. We’ll recommend the best treatments for you, which may include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and others.
We provide a specialty pharmacy that’s staffed by pharmacists who are experts in cancer medications. Because our pharmacy is fully integrated with our cancer treatment centers, our pharmacists are able to work closely with your treatment team. This helps to make sure you get the special medications you need to treat and manage cancer. Our team will help you understand the cost of your medication and help you with your insurance.
The Accreditation Commission for Health Care (ACHC) has recognized us as a specialty pharmacy with a Distinction in Oncology.
Home care is when doctor-led care is provided in the comfort of your home. The goal is to manage your condition, keep you comfortable and ensure you can safely live in your home. Our team of doctors, nurses and aides will work with you to develop a care plan that meets your needs. If you think home care is the best option for you or your family member, please talk to a member of your care team. We’ll answer your questions and guide you to helpful resources.
Hospice is a type of individualized care provided to patients. The goal of hospice care is to relieve pain and help a patient’s final days be as comfortable and meaningful as possible. Hospice care doesn’t happen in a specific place. Instead, we can provide hospice care wherever you and your family feel most comfortable, including at home, in an assisted living facility, in a hospital or in a residential hospice facility. We’ll work with you to develop a care plan that helps with your medical needs along with the emotional and spiritual needs of you and your family.
Nearly 90% of all skin cancers are caused by UV radiation. This type of radiation comes from direct exposure to sunlight. Being exposed to the sun without protection from sunscreen or clothing can increase your risk of skin cancer. Man-made UV rays from tanning beds and sun lamps can also increase your risk of developing skin cancer.
A family history of skin cancer, fair skin or eyes, and a history of sunburns may lead to an increased risk of developing skin cancer. People with these risk factors should see a dermatologist yearly for a skin check.
Many different board-certified doctors, nurses, technologists and other medical professionals will work with you to make sure you’re getting the care you need during every step of your treatment.
Depending on what type of skin cancer you have, your care team might be made up of:
- Dermatologists – Doctors who specialize in treating skin conditions.
- Mohs surgeons – Surgeons who specialize in performing Mohs surgery.
- Surgical oncologists – Doctors who specialize in using surgery to treat and manage cancer.
- Medical oncologists – Doctors who specialize in using medications, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and other procedures to treat cancer.
- Radiation oncologists – Doctors who specialize in using radiation to treat cancer.
Yes, all of our patients are able to participate in clinical trials if they meet the requirements. Take a look at our current clinical trials and learn more about our ongoing cancer research at the HealthPartners Institute.
We accept most health insurance plans, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, CIGNA, HealthPartners, Medica, Medicare, PreferredOne and many others.
Not sure what your insurance covers? Call the number on the back of your card for help looking at your options.
Don’t have your card in front of you? Here are the member services numbers to help you get started:
- HealthPartners: 800-883-2177
- Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota: 800-382-2000
- CIGNA: 800-244-6224 (insurance through work); 866-494-2111 (insurance directly or through the Exchange)
- Medica: 800-952-3455
- Medicare: 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227)
- PreferredOne: 763-847-4477 (in the Twin Cities); 800-997-1750 (outside the metro area)
- United Healthcare: 877-842-3210