The skin is the body’s largest organ, and it’s exposed to the sun every day, which puts it at risk for cancer. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer and begins when abnormal cells in the outermost layer of the skin (epidermis) grow out of control.
Our cancer specialists bring you the latest in diagnosing and treating all forms of melanoma and skin cancer. Services and programs are provided in state-of-the-art facilities with a team that understands that cancer is physically and emotionally challenging. A cancer diagnosis is never easy to hear, but at WVU Cancer Institute, you’ll have access to some of the nation’s best in cancer care. It’s where you’ll find hope, compassionate care, and the expertise you need to treat cancer.
Types of Melanoma and Skin Cancer We Treat
The WVU Cancer Institute specializes in evaluating and treating cancerous and noncancerous skin conditions. Our comprehensive team brings together board-certified dermatologists, surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, highly trained nurses, and pathologists —all with skin cancer expertise. We work to make sure your treatment is customized to your specific type of cancer and your needs.
Our team has expertise in all types of melanoma and skin cancer, including:
Basal cell cancer
This type of cancer is found in the skin’s outer layer (epidermis) and often develops on the head, neck, nose, ears, or top of the hands. But it can be found anywhere on the body. About 80 percent of skin cancer is basal cell, which occurs because of sun exposure or after radiation therapy. Basal cell cancer grows slowly and usually does not spread to other parts of the body.
This type of skin cancer is less common than other types. However, it’s an aggressive type of cancer that spreads to other parts of the body. Melanoma begins in the cells that make the pigment called melanin. It can start in the skin and pigmented tissue such as the eye or intestines.
Merkel cell cancer
This is a rare form of skin cancer that is very aggressive and fast-growing. It’s often found on the head or the neck area and starts in cells that produce hormones under the skin and in the hair follicles.
Squamous cell cancer
Squamous cells are the flat cells that cover most of the epidermis. Because squamous cell cancer occurs from sun exposure, it can be found on any part of the body, including the lips, skin surrounding the mouth, and the anus.
Screening and Diagnosing Melanoma and Skin Cancer
There are different ways to diagnose skin cancer and melanoma. It’s important for you to talk with your doctor if you notice any new symptoms, such as a skin sore that doesn’t heal or an area of the skin that’s scaly, bleeding, raised, or reddish-brown.
We use the latest diagnostic tests to identify skin cancer and create a personalized plan for your care. These diagnostic tools include:
- Advanced imaging — With the latest technology, including chest x-ray, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and positron emission tomography (PET) scans, we are able to detect signs of disease and see whether cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes.
- Physical exam — Doctors perform a physical exam to look for signs of changes in your body. These may include skin color changes, an enlarged organ, or lumps in your lymph nodes.
- Skin biopsy — Doctors use biopsy to remove abnormal tissue from your skin and examine the cells under a microscope. Biopsy results help oncologists plan the best treatment for you. There are several different biopsy types, including shave biopsy, which shaves off an abnormal-looking growth; punch biopsy, which uses an instrument called a punch to remove a circle of tissue from an abnormal growth; and incisional or excisional biopsy, which removes part or all of the growth.
- Skin exam — Doctors check the skin for bumps or spots that look abnormal in color, size, texture, or shape.
Treatment for Melanoma and Skin Cancer
From your first visit, our team works with you to address your specific condition and needs. Our goal is to treat cancer at its earliest stage. Your care plan may include:
- Cryosurgery — This type of treatment is also known as cryotherapy or cold therapy. It uses extremely cold temperatures to treat abnormal tissue and destroy tumors.
- Chemical peel or dermabrasion — This type of treatment uses a rotating wheel that removes the top layer of skin and skin cells.
- Electrosurgery — This treatment is also called curettage. It removes the tumor by cutting it with a curette, which is a sharp, spoon-shaped tool. Doctors then use a needle-shaped electrode to treat the area and destroy cancer cells.
- Simple excision — This type of treatment includes cutting the tumor off, along with some of the surrounding tissue.
- Immunotherapy such as CAR T-cell therapy — Your immune system has cells called T cells, which attack cancer cells. During this treatment, our doctors modify your T cells in a lab, which makes them able to bind to and kill cancer cells. When your cells are modified, they produce special structures called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs).
- Medical oncology — Medical oncology includes chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, and hormone therapy. Our doctors use the latest in anti-cancer medicine to destroy cancer cells, slow cancer growth, and shrink tumors before surgery. Sometimes, we use medication alongside other treatments such as radiation or after surgery to destroy any cancer cells that might remain.
- Mohs micrographic surgery— One of the most advanced and effective treatments for skin cancer is Mohs surgery. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, this procedure has the lowest recurrence rates, highest cure rates, and best cosmetic results of any skin cancer treatment.
- Photodynamic therapy — This treatment injects a light-sensitive medicine into the tumor site. Laser light is shined onto the skin, and the medicine becomes active and kills the cancer cells.
- Radiation oncology — We use radiotherapy treatments to target, destroy, and shrink cancer. The treatments use a linear accelerator to produce precise, high-energy rays that target the exact area of cancer and spare healthy cells. Radiation oncology includes 3D conformal radiotherapy, image-guided radiation therapy, stereotactic radiation therapy, intensity-modulated radiation therapy, intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT), and brachytherapy.
- Surgery — Surgery helps us diagnose, stage, and treat many tumors. We use surgery approaches, such as laser surgery, that use the high-intensity light of a laser to precisely remove a cancerous lesion or precancerous lesion.
- Targeted therapy — Our doctors put medicine and fluids through a catheter into your bloodstream. We use targeted therapy to treat melanomas that have certain gene changes, such as the BRAF gene that produces protein changes in about half of all melanoma cancers. Targeted therapy interferes with the function of the abnormal cells without harming healthy tissue.
Resources for Melanoma and Skin Cancer
We believe cancer care goes beyond the medical diagnosis and treatment. That’s why you can access many resources that may help answer questions and connect you to others.