Skin Cancer Terms and Definitions

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BAY-sul sel KAR-sih-NOH-muh)
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. 

Dermatologist (der-muh-TAH-loh-jist)
A doctor who has special training to diagnose and treat skin problems. Dermatologists complete a one-year internship program in general medicine and a 3-year dermatology residency.

ENT Doctor (Ear-Nose-Throat)
A doctor who specializes in treating diseases of the ear, nose, and throat. Also called otolaryngologist. ENT doctors complete at least five years of specialized training in surgery of the head and neck.

Medical Oncologist (MEH-dih-kul on-KAH-loh-jist)
A doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating cancer using chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapy, and targeted therapy. A medical oncologist often is the main health care provider for someone who has cancer. A medical oncologist also gives supportive care and may coordinate treatment given by other specialists. Medical oncologists complete three years of internal medicine training and 2-3 years of specialty training in oncology.

Melanoma (MEH-luh-NOH-muh)
A form of cancer that begins in melanocytes (cells that make the pigment melanin). It may begin in a mole (skin melanoma), but can also begin in other pigmented tissues, such as in the eye or in the intestines. 

Merkel Cell Carcinoma (MER-kul sel KAR-sih-NOH-muh)
A rare type of cancer that forms on or just beneath the skin, usually in parts of the body that have been exposed to the sun. It is most common in older people and in people with weakened immune systems. Also called Merkel cell cancer, neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin, and trabecular cancer.   

Radiation Oncologist (RAY-dee-AY-shun on-KAH-loh-jist)
A doctor who specializes in using radiation to treat cancer. Radiation oncologists complete a one-year internship program in general medicine and four years of specialized training in radiation therapy for cancers.  

Skin Cancer
Cancer that forms in the tissues of the skin. There are several types of skin cancer. Skin cancer that forms in melanocytes (skin cells that make pigment) is called melanoma. Skin cancer that forms in the lower part of the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin) is called basal cell carcinoma. Skin cancer that forms in squamous cells (flat cells that form the surface of the skin) is called squamous cell carcinoma. Skin cancer that forms in neuroendocrine cells (cells that release hormones in response to signals from the nervous system) is called neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin. Most skin cancers form in older people on parts of the body exposed to the sun or in people who have weakened immune systems.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SKWAY-mus sel KAR-sih-NOH-muh)
Cancer that begins in squamous cells, which are thin, flat cells that look like fish scales. Squamous cells are found in the tissue that forms the surface of the skin, the lining of the hollow organs of the body, and the passages of the respiratory and digestive tracts. Also called epidermoid carcinoma. 

Surgical Oncologist (SER-jih-kul on-KAH-loh-jist)
A doctor who performs biopsies and other surgical procedures in cancer patients.  Surgical oncologists complete at least five years of general surgical training and 2-3+ years of specialty training in cancer surgeries.

The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) 460 W. 10th Avenue, Columbus, OH 43210 Phone: 1-800-293-5066 | Email: jamesline@osumc.edu