Recognizing signs, symptoms of skin cancer and knowing when to get help

Skin cancer can be found anywhere on body

SAN ANTONIO – Skin cancer can show in very different forms and it is best to go to a dermatologist once a year to get checked.

The START Center for Cancer Care in San Antonio is looking to raise awareness for skin cancer in our community.

Doctors with the START Center say there are four main types of skin cancer they see on a daily basis.

Those are:


The Skin Cancer Foundation describes Melanoma as a type of skin cancer that begins in cells known as melanocytes. This particular type of skin cancer is less common than other types but it is very dangerous as it has the ability to spread to other organs more rapidly if not caught and treated early.

“With skin cancer, the smaller the spot is, the more easily and better cosmetic outcome can be rendered if it’s treated quickly,” said Dr. Alexander Miller, an oncologist with START Center for Cancer Care in San Antonio.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

The Skin Cancer Foundation describes Squamous Cell Carcinoma as the second most common form of skin cancer. It is characterized by the abnormal and accelerated growth of squamous cells in the body. This type of cancer is very curable.

“Anything that really changes or is noticed that just seems out of the ordinary should be an indication to have a doctor check it out.,” Miller said.

Merkel Cell Carcinoma

The Skin Cancer Foundation describes Merkel Cell Carcinoma as one of the most rare and dangerous types of cancer, but it is treatable. It’s an aggressive type of skin cancer with a high risk of returning and spreading throughout the body.

Merkel Cell Carcinoma is also the type of skin cancer that Jimmy Buffett recently passed away from.

This form of cancer usually occurs in older adults, with fairer skin tones who have more access to the sun.

“There’s a lot of research going on in this field, more things are coming out, more treatments are becoming available. Our biggest issue is knowing what to look out for and who to go to for managing,” said Dr. Hanni Salih, a medical hematologist oncologist with the START Center for Cancer Care in San Antonio.

One specific form of treatment for Merkel Cell Carcinoma is immunotherapy.

Immunotherapy is a form of systemic therapy that’s goal is to unmask tumor cells from our immune system.

“It works by inactivating the receptors on cancer cells allowing the immune system to identify them and kill them,” Salih said.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

The Skin Cancer Foundation describes Basal Cell Carcinoma as the most common form of skin cancer. It most often forms when your skin is damaged from ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Those rays triggers changes in the basal cells in the epidermis of the skin, resulting in rapid growth of the cells, leading to cancer.

There is one common theme for what causes skin cancer, and that is the ultraviolet rays coming from the sun.

“We live in a place that’s constantly bombarded with sun and ultraviolet rays and because of that, the risk of skin cancer in our community is very high,” Miller said.

The top two things you can do to protect your skin while outside is to wear protective clothing and to always wear sunscreen.

“People who get a sunburn today, 20-30 years from now they’ll still be potentially at an increase risk of getting skin cancer because of the sunburn they might have had when they were 20,” said Miller.

When it comes to any type of skin cancer, there are a few warning signs you need to lookout for to keep yourself safe.

Those include:

  • Moles:
    • A new mole
    • Change in color, size or shape
  • Red spots
  • Elevated areas
  • New, enlarging or changing areas of the skin
  • Something that wasn’t there before

“We see people with skin cancers behind the ears, under the arms, really unusual places, even the finger nail or toe nail beds,” Miller said.

If you are worried about your skin, Dr. Miller and Dr. Salih recommend you going to your primary care doctor. Tell them about your concerns and they will look at the spot for you. If needed, they will recommend you to a dermatologist who can help further.

You can read more about what the START Center is doing to help with cancer treatments by clicking here.

About the Author:

Halee Powers is a KSAT producer primarily focused on digital newscasts and events.