Cancer Types

Main Content

Melanoma and Skin Cancers

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. It usually forms in skin that has been exposed to sunlight, but can occur anywhere on the body. Skin has several layers, and cancer begins in the epidermis (outer layer), which is made up of squamous cells, basal cells, and melanocytes.

There are several different types of skin cancer. Squamous cell and basal cell skin cancers are sometimes called non-melanoma skin cancers. Non-melanoma skin cancer usually responds to treatment and rarely spreads to other parts of the body.

Melanoma is more aggressive than most other types of skin cancer. If it isn’t diagnosed early, it is likely to invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. The number of cases of melanoma is increasing each year. Only 2 percent of all skin cancers are melanoma, but it causes most deaths from skin cancer.

Rare types of skin cancer include Merkel cell carcinoma, skin lymphoma, and Kaposi sarcoma.

Content used by permission from the website of the National Cancer Institute ( 

Melanoma and skin cancers we treat:

A team approach to management of melanoma and skin cancers

The UMMC Cancer Center and Research Institute melanoma and skin care team includes dermatologists, pathologists, surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, radiologists, nurses, dietitians, social workers, and others.

The team has experience with many unusual and complex cases and sees patients with advanced cancers and other complex medical problems. Team members meet as a group regularly to review imaging, pathology, and other matters unique to each patient. Together, they consider and discuss a patient's type of cancer, how advanced it is, and other conditions or personal matters that may impact treatment recommendations. Members follow National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines in developing treatment plans.

This team also includes a coordinator who helps guide patients through the ins and outs of cancer treatment and coordinates their initial visit.

Appointments and locations

Contact the coordinator to schedule appointments or ask questions beforehand. We’ll work to schedule all of your appointments on the same day to make your care easier and more convenient. Most services will be at the Cancer Center and Research Institute in the Jackson Medical Mall, but we also provide cancer care on the main campus at University Hospital and the University Physicians Pavilion.

  • For Skin Cancer Treatment locations, click here.
  • For appointments or questions, call our skin cancer coordinator at (601) 984-5590.

Skin cancer screening

UMMC primary care physicians and dermatologists screen for skin cancers as part of an annual exam. Skin cancers can occur anywhere on the body, and the most common symptom is a new growth on the skin or a sore that does not heal in the usual time. The first sign of a melanoma is frequently a change in the shape, color, or size of an existing mole, or the appearance of a new mole in adults. It's important to look for new moles and changes in existing moles.

Treatment options

UMMC offers the leading-edge technology and treatment for skin cancer, including surgery, Mohs surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and clinical trials, when appropriate.

Support services

Cancer can take an emotional toll on you and your family, and our job is to help you through it. Whether you need financial assistance or advice, counseling or a support group, or any other social or medical services, your nurse coordinator can quickly connect you to the care you’re looking for.

Skin cancer stages

Staging is determining how far cancer has spread. Doctors use a standardized system (TNM) created by the American Joint Committee on Cancer:

  • T to describe the primary tumor and whether it is invading nearby tissue.
  • N to describe whether cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes.
  • M to describe whether cancer has metastasized, or spread to other parts of the body.

Numbers or letters after the T, N, and M provide more information. Numbers, from 0 to 4, indicate the severity. An “X” means the information is not available. And the letters “is” mean “in situ” which means the cancer is in the layer of cells where it started and is, therefore, non-invasive.

These letters and numbers will be combined to designate the stage or extent of a cancer. Doctors may talk about Stage 0 through Stage IV with the T, N, and M followed by numbers providing more description of the cancer.

Types of melanoma and skin cancer

Definitions provided by the website of the National Cancer Institute (

Acral lentiginous melanoma

This type of melanoma occurs on non-hair-bearing surfaces of the body and typically shows up as dark spots on the palms, soles of the feet, under nails, and in the mouth.

Back to top.

Basal cell carcinoma

Cancer that begins in the lower part of the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin). It may appear as a small white or flesh-colored bump that grows slowly and may bleed. Basal cell carcinomas are usually found on areas of the body exposed to the sun. Basal cell carcinomas rarely metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body. They are the most common form of skin cancer. Also called basal cell cancer.

Back to top.

Cutaneous (skin) T-cell lymphoma

Any of a group of T-cell non-Hodgkin lymphomas that begins in the skin as an itchy, red rash that can thicken or form a tumor. The most common types are mycosis fungoides and Sézary syndrome.

Back to top.

Kaposi sarcoma

A type of cancer in which lesions (abnormal areas) grow in the skin, lymph nodes, lining of the mouth, nose, and throat, and other tissues of the body. The lesions are usually purple and are made of cancer cells, new blood vessels, and blood cells. They may begin in more than one place in the body at the same time. Kaposi sarcoma is caused by Kaposi sarcoma-associated herpes virus (KSHV).

Back to top.


Melanoma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in melanocytes (cells that color the skin). Melanoma is a rare form of skin cancer. Melanoma can occur anywhere on the skin. It is more likely to invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body than other types of skin cancer. When melanoma starts in the skin, it is called cutaneous melanoma. Melanoma may also occur in mucous membranes (thin, moist layers of tissue that cover surfaces such as the lips).

Unusual moles, exposure to sunlight, and health history can affect the risk of melanoma.

Back to top.

Merkel cell carcinoma

Merkel cells are found in the top layer of the skin. These cells are very close to the nerve endings that receive the sensation of touch. Merkel cell carcinoma, also called neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin or trabecular cancer, is a very rare type of skin cancer that forms when Merkel cells grow out of control. Merkel cell carcinoma starts most often in areas of skin exposed to the sun, especially the head and neck, as well as the arms, legs, and trunk.

Sun exposure and having a weak immune system can affect the risk of Merkel cell carcinoma.

Back to top.

Neurofibromatosis Type 1

A rare genetic condition that causes brown spots and tumors on the skin, freckling in skin areas not exposed to the sun, tumors on the nerves, and developmental changes in the nervous system, muscles, bone, and skin. Also called NF1.

Neurofibromatosis Type 2

A genetic condition in which tumors form on the nerves of the inner ear and cause loss of hearing and balance. Tumors may also occur in the brain and on nerves in the skull and spinal cord, and may cause loss of speech, eye movement, and the ability to swallow. Also called acoustic neurofibromatosis and NF2.

Back to top.

Non-melanoma skin cancer

Skin cancer that forms in the lower part of the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin) or in squamous cells, but not in melanocytes (skin cells that make pigment). Non-melanoma skin cancer usually responds to treatment and rarely spreads to other parts of the body.

Back to top.

Squamous cell carcinoma

Cancer that begins in squamous cells. Squamous cells are thin, flat cells that look like fish scales, and are found in the tissue that forms the surface of the skin, the lining of the hollow organs of the body, and the lining of the respiratory and digestive tracts. Most cancers of the anus, cervix, head and neck, and vagina are squamous cell carcinomas. Also called epidermoid carcinoma.

Back to top.