Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. There are three primary types, as well as a few much rarer forms. The three main skin cancer types are squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Although melanoma is much less common than the other types, it’s a lot more likely to invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.

The skin has several layers, but the two main layers are the epidermis (the skin you see when you look at yourself) and the dermis (the lower or inner layer). Skin cancer begins in the epidermis, which is made up of three kinds of cells: Squamous cells, the thin, flat cells that form the top layer of the epidermis; basal cells, round cells under the squamous cells; and melanocytes, cells that make the pigment melanin, which gives the skin its color. People with a higher amount of melanin have darker skin.

The NCI estimates that 97,610 people will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2023, and the American Cancer Society says that about 5.4 million basal and squamous cell skin cancers are diagnosed each year in the U.S. skin cancer case numbers have been increasing for many years, likely due to better skin cancer screenings and detection, people getting more sun exposure, and people living longer.

Our physicians are well versed in the treatment of skin cancer, and our support staff will make your treatment journey as easy as possible. We have offices in Louisville and just across the river in Jeffersonville for your convenience. Learn more about our physicians.

Types of skin cancer

All of the most common skin cancer types can be triggered by sun exposure. Sometimes that sun exposure damages cells and causes them to reproduce out of control, resulting in tumors.

  • Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer; about 8 of 10 skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas. This cancer usually develops on sun-exposed areas, particularly the face, head, and neck.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma is found in 2 out of 10 skin cancers. These cancers are usually found in sun-exposed areas of the body such as the face, ears, neck, lips, and back of the hands. They can also develop in scars or chronic skin sores elsewhere.
  • Melanoma can develop anywhere on the skin, but they’re more likely to start on the chest and back in men and on the legs in women. Because this cancer begins in the pigment-producing melanocytes, they are often black or brown in color. But some melanomas don’t make melanin, so these tumors can appear pink, tan, or white.
  • Other, much rarer types of skin cancers include Merkel cell skin cancer, Kaposi sarcoma, and lymphoma of the skin.

Risk factors for skin cancer

Some behaviors and activities can increase your risk of developing skin cancer. The primary risk factor is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, whether it’s through outdoor work, spending time at the beach, or using a tanning bed regularly. White people with light-colored skin that freckles or burns easily, blue or green eyes, and naturally red or blonde hair are at the highest risk of developing skin cancer.

UV Exposure


Many Moles / Atypical Moles

Weakened Immune System





HPV Infection

Other risk factors for skin cancer include:


  • Having many moles or atypical moles
  • Having a weakened immune system
  • Age
  • Sex. Males are at a higher risk for skin cancer
  • Personal or family history of skin cancer
  • Smoking
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection

Radiation treatment for skin cancer


If a tumor is very large or it’s in an area of the skin that makes it hard to remove with surgery, radiation therapy may be used as the main treatment. Patients who, for other health reasons, can’t have surgery, can often benefit from radiation treatment for skin cancer.

Radiation is also useful when combined with other treatments. For example, your oncologist may prescribe radiation treatment after surgery in order to kill any small areas of remaining cancer cells. This is called adjuvant therapy. Radiation treatment can be used to treat skin cancers that come back after surgery. It can also be used in palliative care, treatment to relieve symptoms and not expected to cure the cancer.

Radiation treatment for skin cancer can be done in several ways. For basal and squamous cell carcinomas, radiation is focused on the tumor, usually with a beam of low-energy x-rays (superficial radiation therapy) or electrons (electron beam radiation). Melanoma is also treated by external beam radiation therapy.

Our physicians use electron beam radiation for superficial skin cancers with custom-designed treatment based on the size and shape of the patient’s tumor. For advanced skin cancers, we have the ability to also use 3D conformal radiation therapy (3D-CRT) and IMRT. We are experienced in custom fabrication of 3D printed material for use in the treatment of more advanced skin cancers.

Radiation therapy for skin cancer is also used following surgery for some patients due to high risk findings at time of surgery.

Information on this page is sourced from the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute.

Skin Cancer Resources

Are you being treated for skin cancer? Here are some resources to help you better understand your treatment; how to prepare for treatment; and what to expect before, during, and after treatment occurs.

Screening vs. Diagnostic Mammograms
Screening vs. Diagnostic Mammograms

Screening vs. diagnostic mammograms—what’s the difference? Here’s what you need to know about each, including potential outcomes and next steps.

Cancers We Treat

Our physicians treat a wide variety of cancers. You can view the full list here, or you can click below to learn about the cancers we most commonly treat.


Radiation is often the treatment of choice for prostate cancer. It is used as the first line treatment for cancer that is low-grade and still confined to the prostate. It’s used as part of the first treatment for cancers that have grown outside the prostate gland and into nearby tissues. It is also used in cases of recurrent prostate cancer, and to help prevent or relieve symptoms in advanced cases. We offer intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), image guided radiation therapy (IGRT), stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) for recurrence in selected patients, and radiopharmaceutical treatments including radium 223 and Pluvicto (lutetium 177).

Learn more about prostate cancer


Some people with breast cancer will need radiation in addition to other treatments.  Radiation therapy can be used after breast-conserving surgery to help lower the chance the cancer will come back in the same breast or nearby lymph nodes. It can also be used after a mastectomy, especially if the cancer was larger than about 2 inches, if cancer is found in many lymph nodes, or if certain surgical margins have cancer cells. It is also used when breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body such as the bones, spinal cord, or brain.

Learn more about breast cancer


In select cases, stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) for lung cancer can provide great benefits to patients with both small cell and non-small cell tumors that have not spread throughout the lung. It’s also useful when lung cancers have metastasized (spread) to other areas of the body like the chest cavity, brain, or other organs. It is used in non-small cell lung cancer before surgery to shrink the tumor, if the patient isn’t healthy enough for surgery, if the tumor has spread too far to be treated with surgery, and after surgery to kill any tumor cells that might still be in the body. For patients with small cell lung cancer, it’s used to treat the tumor and lymph nodes in the chest, for people who can’t tolerate chemoradiation, or it may be given prophylactically (as prevention) to help minimize the risk of the cancer spreading to the brain.

Learn more about lung cancer


According to the American Cancer Society, radiation therapy for bladder cancer is used after surgery that does not remove the whole bladder (such as TURBT). It’s also used as the main treatment for people with early-stage cancers who can’t have surgery or chemotherapy to try to avoid cystectomy (surgery to remove the bladder), as part of treatment for advanced bladder cancer, and to help prevent or treat symptoms caused by advanced bladder cancer.

Learn more about bladder cancer


Cancer can affect a lot of areas of the head and neck including the nose, mouth, tongue, salivary glands, throat, and larynx (voice box). It’s critical that these patients use a radiation oncology provider who is experienced in head and neck cancer medical procedures. Radiation is used in several ways to treat head and neck cancers. First, it may be used alone, for small cancers or people who can’t have surgery. It can be used before or after surgery, along with chemotherapy (chemoradiation), to kill any remaining cancer cells or shrink the size of large tumors, as well as for treating recurrences and ease symptoms.

Learn more about head and neck cancers


There are several types of skin cancer, the most common of which are basal and squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Radiation treatment for skin cancer can be used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells, to treat recurring or metastasized melanoma, or to provide palliative care. In the treatment of skin cancers, radiation can be combined with other treatments such as chemotherapy or surgery.

Learn more about skin cancer


Other types of cancer we treat include:

  • Brain Cancer
  • Mesothelioma
  • Cervical Cancer
  • Ovarian Cancer
  • Colon & Rectal Cancers
  • Pancreatic Cancer
  • Endometrial Cancer
  • Gynecologic Cancers
  • Sarcoma
  • Hypopharyngeal Cancer
  • Kidney Cancer
  • Testicular Cancer
  • Laryngeal Cancer
  • Thyroid Cancer
  • Liver Cancer

Schedule Your Appointment Today

If you are referred for radiation therapy during your cancer care, you get to choose where to receive treatment. We are here to support and encourage you—call us today to schedule your first appointment with one of our radiation oncologists at the cancer center nearest to you.