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Skin Cancers

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. There are different kinds of skin cancers. Some are more serious than others. The type of cancer and how likely it is to spread is important to consider. It is also important to consider the location of skin cancers, which often occur in visible places on the body that have been exposed to sun over the years. All situations require and benefit from expert, personalized care.

Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center is at the forefront of leading care for skin cancer, including melanoma. We offer clinical trials, where patients have access to the latest approaches not yet available as standard care. We also provide the ultimate in personalized care, using the genetic changes in the cancer’s DNA to plan the most effective treatment method for you.

Skin Cancer: Why Choose Vanderbilt-Ingram

Our team of experts ensure a precise diagnosis and then develop a personalized treatment plan for you. At Vanderbilt, you will find:

  • Collaborative, patient-focused care: You may require the expertise of dermatologists, Mohs specialists, surgical oncologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and plastic surgeons, depending on the type and location of the cancer. Our doctors share expertise and collaborate as a team to get you the most effective results. Patients often come to our center for a second opinion on their diagnosis and treatment options.
  • Advanced research and treatment: As a research-based cancer center, we are at the forefront of the latest treatments for melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer. Our commitment to research means that you receive the most current, sophisticated treatment available.
  • Highly trained experts: Our doctors have the skill and knowledge to treat all types of skin cancer, from common to complex, including tumors in hard-to-treat areas like the face. At our regular tumor boards (cancer care meetings), our skin cancer experts discuss complex cases individually. Together, some of the nation’s leading cancer experts across medical disciplines collaborate on choosing a treatment plan.

Skin Cancers We Treat

Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are also called non-melanoma skin cancer. These types of cancer usually respond well to treatment, don’t spread rapidly and are rarely fatal. These cancers may be treated by our dermatology team, which includes Mohs surgery specialists. When advanced, these cancers may require the expertise  of our cancer center team.

Melanoma is a more dangerous form of skin cancer that can spread to other parts of the body if not detected and treated early. We are among the leading centers for melanoma expertise and experience.

Learn more about these types of cancers:

  • Basal cell: Often found on the skin exposed to the sun, basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. It often appears as white or skin-tone bumps that may bleed. This type of skin cancer rarely spreads.
  • Squamous cell: More serious than basal cell, squamous cell carcinoma looks like a flat, waxy patch of skin and is sometimes mistaken for dry skin. Sometimes this cancer looks like a small scab that won’t heal or a recurring sore. If left untreated, squamous cell cancer can grow and spread.
  • Melanoma: Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer and can be life-threatening if left untreated. If you have a mole that changes shape, size, color, appearance, sensation or starts to bleed, you should see a doctor immediately.
  • Merkel cell carcinoma: Also known as neuroendocrine carcinoma, this reddish-blue growth on the skin is rare and typically appears on the face, head or neck. Like other skin cancers, it can be caused by sun exposure and also by a weak immune system. It grows and spreads quickly.

Diagnosing Skin Cancer

To diagnose skin cancer, we will ask you about your symptoms, your medical history and any skin changes you’ve noticed. We will then perform one or more diagnostic tests:

  • Physical examination: Looking at your skin (including suspicious lumps, moles or discoloration) helps your doctor gather information about your condition.
  • Biopsy: We remove a tissue sample from the skin. This procedure can confirm a diagnosis of cancer. We will numb the skin before performing the biopsy so you won’t feel any pain.
  • Imaging scans: We typically do imaging scans to determine if the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes. These scans are noninvasive.

Skin Cancer Treatment at Vanderbilt-Ingram

Once we confirm a diagnosis, we will begin developing your customized treatment plan. We offer the full spectrum of treatment methods. Depending on your specific situation, you may be a candidate for a clinical trial.

Treatment options at Vanderbilt-Ingram:

  • Surgery: There are several types of surgery used to remove skin cancer:
    • Excision: We remove the tumor and some normal skin around it, to ensure that we removed all the cancer cells.
    • Mohs surgery: After we remove the tumor, we scrape layers of skin, testing each layer for signs of cancer. We continue until all evidence of cancer is gone. See our Mohs specialists.
    • Cryosurgery: We use liquid nitrogen or liquid carbon dioxide to freeze and kill cancer cells.
    • Laser surgery: We use a narrow beam of light to remove the tumor. The light heats the cells until they are destroyed.
  • Radiation therapy: Your doctor may suggest using high-energy X-rays to destroy the cancer cells and stop them from growing back.
  • Chemotherapy: This treatment uses drugs given orally or in a vein to kill the cancer cells and stop them from growing. We offer chemotherapy services at multiple infusion centers, so you can get care at the location that’s closest to you.
  • Immunotherapy: These treatments include drugs given through a vein to activate the immune system to fight the cancer.
  • Precision medicine: These oral drugs fight cancer by targeting particular genetic changes in cancer cells.

Melanoma Treatment at Vanderbilt-Ingram

If you are diagnosed with melanoma, a serious form of skin cancer, the quality of your care is critical to having a successful outcome. At Vanderbilt-Ingram, you will find:

  • Regional leaders: We are leaders in melanoma research and treatment, serving more than 300 patients each year.
  • Research translated to patient care: Our melanoma program brings together scientists and clinicians who exclusively focus on advancing the treatment of melanoma.
  • Leading-edge treatments: We are at the forefront of melanoma care, using the latest immunotherapy techniques such as immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy. This treatment increases the ability of the body’s immune cells to fight cancer. We also use genetically driven treatment to target the cancer cells while causing less damage to surrounding healthy tissue.
  • Team approach: Our integrated team combines the skill and knowledge of doctors devoted to screening, diagnosing and successfully treating melanoma.
  • Clinical trials: We offer clinical trials for patients who are interested and meet the requirements.

Comprehensive Post-Treatment Support

Cancer affects all aspects of your life, and it affects you even after treatments are completed. We offer robust support services – including a survivorship program and an integrative care center – to help you during treatment and in your life after treatment. 

Medical Oncologists

Advanced Non-Melanoma Medical Oncologists

Radiation Oncologists

Surgical Oncologists


Plastic Surgeons