Learning new Terms and Phrases
As you learn about skin cancer and its treatment, you will likely read many new or unfamiliar words. Check back in with this glossary often to help you talk with your treatment team and take an active role in your care. You can also share this page with friends or family to help them learn as well.
Basal cell skin cancer
Cancer that starts in the basal cells found in the top layer of the skin, called the epidermis. It is the most common type of skin cancer and can also be called “basal cell carcinoma.”
This could be a member of the doctor’s office staff, someone from your employer, or a person from your insurance company who can help you understand what your insurance covers and about how much a procedure or treatment will cost you.
A group of abnormal cells that divide and grow out of control. They are also called a cancer or malignancy. Carcinoma refers to cells found in the skin or tissue that lines or covers internal organs.
A medicine that kills the cancer cells. Chemotherapies for skin cancer are given as an IV or are topical treatments that come as a cream or gel that is put right onto the skin.
A type of treatment for basal and squamous cell skin cancers. During this treatment, liquid nitrogen is used to freeze and kill the skin cancer cells. The skin cancer and the healthy tissue around it may blister and fall off before the healthy skin grows back.
A type of doctor who cares for the skin, hair, and nails. He or she likely does skin checks each year to help find and treat skin cancers early.
The middle layer of the skin where the hair follicles are found.
A type of treatment for basal and squamous cell skin cancers. During this surgery, a sharp instrument with a ring-shaped tip is used to scrape or shave off the cancer. The cancer cells left are killed with heat or a chemical. Curettage and electrodesiccation are types of electrosurgery.
The top layer of the skin where basal cells, squamous cells, and melanocytes are found.
A type of treatment for basal and squamous cell skin cancers. During this surgery, the cancer and an area of healthy skin is cut out or shaved off. That skin is sent away to a lab and the person goes home. He or she may need to come back for another surgery to remove all the cancer.
A type of cancer treatment that uses the body’s immune system to fight the cancer. Immunotherapies for skin cancer are given either as an IV or a cream.
Large, red, raised scars.
Cells found in the top layer of the skin, called the epidermis. These cells make pigment, called melanin, that gives the skin its color. When these cells turn into cancer, it is called melanoma.
A special type of surgery used to cure basal and squamous cell cancers by cutting out layers of the skin until all the skin cancer is gone. It is also called “Mohs micrographic surgery” or just “Mohs”.
A dermatologist who receives special training from the American College of Mohs Surgery to become a cancer surgeon who performs Mohs surgery. This training also includes how to look at the skin cancer under a microscope to tell if there are still cancer cells left (pathology). Because Mohs leaves a wound, this surgeon is also trained in how to close the wound (reconstructive surgery).
A medical professional who prepares the skin that is removed during Mohs surgery to be viewed under the microscope. He or she works closely with the Mohs surgeon to find any cancer cells that may be in the skin. Some Mohs technicians have had special training through the American Society for Mohs Histotechnology.
A person who goes to the doctor’s office or hospital but is not admitted and does not stay overnight. An outpatient procedure is a test or treatment that happens at the doctor’s office or hospital. The person having the procedure goes home the same day the procedure is done.
A treatment for basal and squamous cell skin cancers that uses a special chemical to kill the cancer cells. After the chemical is put on or in the skin cancer, a blue light or pulsed-dye laser is shined over the area, which “turns on” the chemical, causing it to kill the cancer.
A type of surgery used to change a person’s appearance or help with self-confidence. Plastic surgery may be used to improve the scars left from some skin cancer surgeries.
A type of surgeon who had extensive training in reconstructive procedures.
Bandages put on a wound to stop bleeding.
A type of treatment for basal and squamous cell skin cancers. Instead of surgery, radiotherapy uses X-ray energy to kill the skin cancer cells without the need for cutting or numbing medicine. Types of radiotherapy for skin cancer include Superficial Radiotherapy (SRT), Image-Guided Superficial Radiotherapy (IG-SRT), Electronic Brachytherapy (EBX), and Electronic-beam Radiotherapy (EBRT).
A type of surgery used to close or fix a wound.
A type of reconstructive surgery that uses skin from the area next to a wound to close or fix a wound.
A type of reconstructive surgery where a piece of skin from another area of the body is used to close or fix a wound.
Squamous cell skin cancer
Cancer that starts in the squamous cells found in the top layer of the skin, called the epidermis. It is the second most common type of skin cancer and can also be called “squamous cell carcinoma.”
These types of treatments find and kill specific types of cancer cells. Targeted therapies for skin cancer are given as pills that are swallowed.