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Skin cancers of the head and neck

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Many skin cancers often form on the head or neck, especially the nose, ears and lips, which are especially vulnerable to sun exposure. We treat head and neck skin cancers that are recurring, have spread to the lymph nodes or are close to delicate parts of the neck and head.

Common skin cancers of the head and neck include:

  • Basal cell carcinoma. This is the most common type of skin cancer and the most curable.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma. The second most common skin cancer, it may need aggressive surgery.
  • Melanoma. This is the most serious type of skin cancer and is more likely to spread to other parts of the body.
  • Sarcoma. While sarcoma is not a skin cancer, it can develop deep in the skin, bones or tissue

Skin Cancers of the Head & Neck at UK Markey Cancer Center

Many patients come to us after seeing a family doctor, dermatologist or plastic surgeon. Our head and neck surgeons, or otolaryngologists, specialize in treating skin cancers on these delicate parts of the body.

We offer in-office biopsies and analysis of results for a quick diagnosis for skin cancer patients, often the same day of your first visit.

Our surgeons also perform reconstructive surgery when it’s needed. If patients need chemotherapy, we have medical oncologists who specialize in providing therapy targeted to each patient’s individual needs.

Markey has provided state-of-the-art cancer care for more than 30 years, and we are proud to be the only cancer center in Kentucky designated by the National Cancer Institute. Since 2017, Markey Cancer Center has been nationally recognized as a top 50 cancer center by U.S. News & World Report.

  • Symptoms

    Skin cancers of the head and neck can cause a variety of symptoms, including:

    • An unusual growth on the skin
    • Change in the size or shape of a mole, as well as bleeding or crusting
    • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Survival rates

    When detected early, basal and squamous cell carcinoma have extremely high survival rates, according to the American Cancer Society. An estimated 5.4 million cases of the two diseases are diagnosed annually in over 3 million people, and just 2,000 people on average will die. Most deaths are in older people or in people with suppressed immune systems. The American Cancer Society reports a survival rate of 99 percent for melanoma that has not spread beyond the area where it started. When it has spread to nearby tissue or lymph nodes, the survival rate is 66 percent. When melanoma has spread throughout the body, the survival rate drops to 27 percent.

  • Prevention

    The best way to prevent skin cancer is to protect your skin when you are outside, even on cloudy days. While fair-skinned people who burn easily are more likely to develop skin cancer, anyone can get it, including people with dark skin.

    You can reduce your risk for skin cancer if you:

    • Use sunblock every day and reapply as needed
    • Wear a wide-brimmed hat that shades your entire face and neck
    • Do not use tanning beds
    • Check your skin and scalp regularly for any unusual or new spots
  • Risk factors

    • A weak immune system
    • Exposure to ultraviolet light (from sunlight)
    • Fair skin/freckles
    • Having many moles or atypical moles
    • Human papillomavirus infection
    • Male
    • Older age
    • Prior radiation treatment
    • Regular exposure to large amounts of arsenic that is found in well water and pesticides
    • Smoking
  • Clinical trials

    Clinical trials are research studies aimed at evaluating medical, surgical or behavioral interventions to determine if a new treatment is safe and effective.

    At UK Markey Cancer Center, we are advancing cancer care and research to prevent, detect and treat one patient at a time. As a patient at Markey, you have a team of people looking at your individual case, applying the most recent cancer knowledge to give you the best chance of survival.

    Markey has more open clinical trials than any other cancer center in the region, giving you access to some of the most advanced options available. Learn more about ongoing clinical trials for treating skin cancers of the head and neck, including melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, as well as other head and neck cancers.

  • Locations


    Head, Neck & Respiratory Clinic

    Ben Roach Building exterior photo

    UK Markey Cancer Center

    Ben F. Roach Cancer Care Facility
    800 Rose St.
    Second Floor
    Lexington, KY 40536

    A parking lot is located near the Ben F. Roach Building, accessible via Hospital Drive. Get directions to Ben F. Roach Building.