Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and it makes up more than half the total cancers diagnosed each year. That’s why the extensive experience and deep expertise you’ll find at UCHealth in treating skin cancer makes a significant difference in your positive outcome. We also treat melanoma, the cancer that forms in cells that make pigment.

Team-based treatment at UCHealth

At UCHealth facilities across the Front Range, a caring team of doctors and support professionals from many fields work together to develop the best plan of care for you, and they stay with you from your initial appointment through treatment and aftercare.

You receive doctor-managed care that emphasizes wellness and healing for you as a whole person—our complementary and integrative medicine specialists incorporate options such as massage therapy, acupuncture, and nutrition and exercise consultation into your treatment. Your expert medical team members may include:

  • Dermatologists
  • Dermapathologists
  • Dermatologic surgeons
  • Medical oncologists
  • Oncology nurses
  • Radiation oncologists
  • Radiologists
  • Social workers
  • Surgical oncologists
  • Integrative medicine and complementary care therapists

Precision advanced treatment with Mohs surgery

Surgeons skilled in Mohs micrographic surgery practice at UCHealth. Mohs surgery is now recognized as the most precise method of removing skin cancer while sparing surrounding healthy tissue. In Mohs surgery, cancerous lesions are removed in very thin layers that are continuously examined under a microscope during the procedure to ensure no cancer cells remain.

High-risk skin cancer program

If you are at high risk for developing skin cancer, UCHealth offers many specialized services for your care and treatment. Our multidisciplinary team provides exceptional care for organ transplant recipients and people with hereditary skin diseases that increase their risk for skin cancer. In addition, you may become one of the many people from around the world who choose UCHealth for our expertise in treating skin-based (cutaneous) lymphomas.

Clinical trials

Your medical team may also recommend participation in a clinical trial. UCHealth conducts hundreds of these “trials” of new treatments or drugs. Participation in a clinical trial may provide those who qualify with access to drugs and vaccines years before they are widely available.

How is it done?

Staging and detection tests

Because no two people develop skin cancer in the same way, we offer a wide array of resources for proper evaluation of your situation—and we use that information to create a personalized plan to fit your specific needs.

Once a cancer has been diagnosed, our specialists need to know where it may have spread. This is the “stage” of the cancer. The lower the number, the less it has spread. Knowing the stage allows your medical team to determine the best possible treatment plan for you.

Any combination of these tests and procedures may be used to find and classify (stage) skin cancer:

  • Biopsy – Removes all or part of the abnormal-looking skin growth for viewing under a microscope by an expert skin pathologist to check for signs of cancer
  • CT scan (computed tomography) – Uses a type of X-ray to create detailed, highly accurate, cross-sectional images of the body
  • Dermoscopy – Uses a drop of mineral oil on the lesion to reduce light reflection, make the skin more translucent, and assist in viewing skin lesions to accurately distinguish between suspicious moles and other pigmented lesions
  • Epiluminescence microscopy – Allows viewing of a lesion down to the dermo-epidermal junction—the areas where melanomas usually develop—that’s not visible to the naked eye
  • Excisional biopsy – Uses a scalpel to remove the entire growth
  • Mole mapping – Uses a full-body photograph and digital analysis to identify mole locations and different features as a way to help determine which moles need to be removed; also used to detect new moles and subtle changes in existing moles between visits
  • Punch biopsy – Uses a special instrument called a punch to remove a circle of tissue from the abnormal-looking growth
  • Skin examination – Uses a visual check of the skin for bumps or spots that look abnormal in color, size, shape, or texture

Treatments and therapies

Treatment for skin cancer varies greatly from person to person. Your medical team may use any combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or new immunotherapies to treat or control your cancer.

Surgery

Depending on location and severity of the skin cancer, surgery may take one of several forms for removing the tumor and some of the surrounding normal tissue to make sure all cancer cells are eliminated. Because cancer can spread through the lymphatic system, lymph nodes near the tumor also may be removed.

  • Cryosurgery – Uses a special instrument to freeze and destroy abnormal tissue; also called cryotherapy
  • Dermabrasion – Uses a rotating wheel or small particles to rub away skin cells on the top layer of skin
  • Electrodesiccation and curettage – Removes the tumor from the skin with a curette, a sharp, spoon-shaped tool; followed by treatment of the area with a pinpoint electric current to stop bleeding and destroy any cancer cells remaining around the edge of the tumor site
  • Laser surgery – Uses a laser—a narrow beam of intense light—as a knife to make bloodless cuts in tissue or to remove a surface lesion such as a tumor
  • Mohs micrographic surgery – Removes melanoma tumor in thin layers using a microscope during the procedure to examine each layer and edges of tumor to check for cancer cells with minimal effect on surrounding tissues; removal of layers continues until no more cancer cells are seen; effective in treating cancers of the face and other cosmetically sensitive areas and recurrent skin cancers
  • Shave excision – Uses a small blade to shave the abnormal area on the surface of the skin
  • Simple excision – Removes both the tumor and some surrounding normal skin

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses drugs that slow down, damage, or kill cancer cells. It may involve single drugs or combinations of drugs taken intravenously or by mouth. Chemotherapy is often taken in cycles lasting three or four weeks each. Your team may also prescribe drugs to reduce or eliminate chemotherapy’s side effects.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy (radiotherapy) uses X-rays and other types of medical radiation aimed at specific parts of the body. The radiation kills cancer cells, prevents cancer cells from developing or recurring, and improves many of cancer’s symptoms. For certain cancers, radiation therapy is combined with chemotherapy and called chemo-radiotherapy.

Photodynamic Therapy

Treatment that uses a certain type of laser light and a drug sensitive to that light to kill cancer cells. To treat skin cancer, laser light is shined onto the skin to activate the drug. Photodynamic therapy causes little damage to healthy tissue.

Locations - Skin cancer treatment