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Glossary - Skin Cancer

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Actinic keratosis - a precancerous condition of thick, scaly patches of skin.

Anesthetics - drugs that cause loss of sensation to pain or awareness.

Angioma - a benign tumor in the skin, which is made up of blood vessels or lymph vessels.


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Basal cells - type of cells that are found in the lowest part of the outer layer of skin. Basal cells are responsible for producing the squamous cells in the skin.

Basal cell carcinoma - the most common form of skin cancer; characterized by small, shiny, raised bumps on the skin that may bleed.

Biological therapy (Also called biological response modifier (BRM) therapy, or immunotherapy.) - tries to get your own body to fight cancer by using materials made by your own body, or made in a laboratory, to boost, direct, or restore your body's natural defenses against disease.

Biopsy - the procedure of removing tissue for examination under a microscope.

Botulinum toxin type A - an injection of botulinum toxin into specific muscles will immobilize those muscles, preventing them from forming wrinkles and furrows.


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Carcinoma - cancer that begins in the skin or in tissues that line or cover internal organs.

Chemical peels - a procedure often used to minimize sun-damaged skin, irregular pigment, and superficial scars. The top layer of skin is removed with a chemical application to the skin. By removing the top layer, the skin regenerates, often improving the skin's appearance.

Chemotherapy - treatment with drugs to destroy cancer cells.

Collagen - a natural protein found in humans that forms connective tissue and provides strength, resilience, and support to the skin, ligaments, tendons, bones, and other parts of the body.

Cryosurgery - freezing the tumor, which kills cancer cells.

Cyst - a deep lesion that is filled with pus or other liquid contents.


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Dermabrasion - used to minimize small scars, minor skin surface irregularities, surgical scars, and acne scars. As the name implies, dermabrasion involves removing the top layers of skin with an electrical machine that "abrades" the skin. As the skin heals from the procedure, the surface appears smoother and fresher.

Dermatofibroma - small, red or brown bumps in the skin that are not cancer.

Dermis - the middle layer of skin, which is made up of blood vessels, lymph vessels, hair follicles, sweat glands, collagen bundles, and fibroblasts.

Dermoid cyst - a benign tumor made up of hairs, sweat glands, and sebaceous glands.


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Electrochemotherapy - uses a combination of chemotherapy and electrical pulses to treat cancer.

Epidermis - the outermost layer of skin.


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Immune system - a collection of cells, proteins, tissues, and organs that works to protect the body from potentially harmful, infectious microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

Immunocompromised - an abnormal condition where one's ability to fight infection is decreased. This can be due to a disease process, certain medications, or a condition present at birth.

Immunotherapy - involves injecting a medication (such as interferon) to boost the body's own immune system, helping it to slow the growth of cancer.

Inflammation - redness, swelling, heat, and pain in a tissue due to chemical or physical injury, infection, or allergic reaction.


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Keloids - smooth, pink, raised, firm, fibrous growths on the skin that form secondary to injury.

Keratinocytes (Also called squamous cells.) - the primary cell types found in the epidermis, the outer layer of skin.


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Laser resurfacing - uses high-energy light to burn away damaged skin. Laser resurfacing may be used to minimize wrinkles and fine scars.

Lymph nodes - small organs that store cells that fight infection and other diseases. Lymph nodes are located throughout the body along the channels of the lymphatic system.


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Macule - the smaller version of a patch - a flat discolored spot.

Malignant melanoma - a rare, but sometimes deadly, skin cancer that begins as a mole that turns cancerous.

Melanin - a substance that gives the skin its color (also called pigment).

Melanocytes - cells present in the epidermis that produce melanin (skin pigment).

Moles - small skin marks caused by pigment-producing cells in the skin.

Mycosis fungoides - cutaneous T-cell lymphoma skin tumors.


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Nodule (Also called papule.) - a solid, raised bump.


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Photodynamic therapy - uses a certain type of light and a special chemical to kill cancer cells.

Punch grafts - small skin grafts to replace scarred skin. A hole is punched in the skin to remove the scar, which is then replaced with unscarred skin (often from the back of the earlobe). Punch grafts can help treat deep acne scars.


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Radiation therapy - uses a radiation machine that emits x-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.


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Sebaceous glands - glands in the skin that secrete oil to the surface of the skin.

Sebum - oily substance produced by sebaceous glands in the skin.

SPF - Sun Protection Factor.

Squamous cell carcinoma - a form of skin cancer that affects about 20 percent of patients with skin cancer. This highly treatable cancer is characterized by red, scaly skin that becomes an open sore.

Squamous cells (Also called keratinocytes.) - the primary cell types found in the epidermis, the outer layer of skin.

Subcutis - the deepest layer of skin; also known as the subcutaneous layer.

Systemic chemotherapy - chemotherapy taken by pill or needle injection into a vein or muscle.


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Topical chemotherapy - chemotherapy given as a cream or lotion placed on the skin to kill cancer cells.


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Ultraviolet radiation - invisible rays that come from the sun or from tanning lamps or booths. UV radiation can damage the skin and cause melanoma and other types of skin cancer.


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Wart - a non-cancerous skin growth caused by a virus.


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