Our Program

Through specialized patient care, medical education and scientific research, the skin cancer program at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center is dedicated to the treatment and study of skin cancer, including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, Merkel cell cancer and liquid tumors such as cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. Our professional staff has special expertise in the treatment of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.

Although the best treatment is prevention and early detection, we offer treatment options personalized by the level and type of the cancer, including targeted molecular therapy, radiation therapy such as the GammaKnife®, immunotherapy, gene therapy and advanced surgical techniques including Mohs surgery and reconstruction.

Our innovative Mohs surgical technique removes one thin layer of the melanoma at a time. Each “slice” is examined for cancer cells under a microscope until a layer shows no signs of cancer. This enables the surgeon to remove as much of the cancer as possible while conserving the surrounding skin.

Exclusive to USC Norris is the UV dosimeter, a technology we built and patented to measure the amount of sun exposure a patient gets at different times throughout the day and in different locations. This exposure history helps us make accurate prevention recommendations.

We are national leading experts in pioneering breakthroughs in gene therapy, a promising new approach to treating melanoma by adding certain genes to the cancer cells. Several clinical trials to test gene therapy approaches are currently underway. We also have access to new medications that target the molecular basis for basal cell carcinoma.

For more detailed information on skin cancer, click here to view our online health library.

Our Approach

As part of a university-based medical center, we treat some of the most complex cases in the Los Angeles area. Our intention is to cure every patient, and we believe in a thoughtful, accurate, detailed approach that involves truly listening to our patients and discussing your conditions and treatments. At USC Norris, our patients drive the decision-making process.

Our multidisciplinary team approach means that our medical, surgical and radiation cancer specialists are conveniently located in one place, coordinating their combined skills and expertise to deliver your plan of care. Working with you and your doctor, our team will design a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs.

We take a carefully balanced approach to patient care, integrating clinical research and innovative programs that emphasize maintaining your quality of life. We provide you and your family with access to a comprehensive support staff, including social services, care management, pain management, patient education and an experienced nursing team. Your experience with be facilitated by a patient navigator who assists with coordinating your care.

Your team attends a regularly scheduled patient care conference in which we discuss your individual case. Our specialists are in constant communication, informing each other about the latest research and therapies applicable to your condition. We are constantly in touch with each other, ensuring that we can collaboratively address immediate concerns.

Conditions

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the world. There are two types of skin cancers: melanoma and non-melanoma. About two million cases of non-melanoma cancers (basal cell and squamous cell) occur each year, and about 76,000 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed. Sunlight is the most common cause of skin cancers, followed by skin aging. We treat all skin cancers at the skin cancer program at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center at Keck Medicine of USC in Los Angeles, including the following:

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common kind of skin cancer in the United States. Most basal cell cancers arise from skin that has been exposed to sunlight or ultraviolet radiation. Visit our online health library to learn more about basal cell carcinoma.

Melanoma is a type of cancer accounts for less than 5 percent of all skin cancers, yet it results in most skin cancer deaths. It is caused by changes in the skin cells called melanocytes that provide color. It also can occur in the colored part of the eye. Visit our online health library to learn more about melanoma.

Merkel cell cancer is a rare form of skin cancer that is caused by an abnormally high growth of Merkel cells in the skin (Merkel cells transmit senses of touch). It usually develops as a flesh-colored, blue or red painless bump on sun-exposed skin. While rare, this type of cancer can be deadly. Keck Medical Center of USC is one of the few centers in the country with expertise in diagnosing and treating this form of cancer.

Squamous cell carcinoma is another common kind of skin cancer that usually starts as a growing bump that may have a rough, scaly surface and flat reddish patches. It may occur in skin that has or has not been damaged. Visit our online health library to learn more about squamous cell carcinoma.

T-Cell lymphoma is one of several types of cancers that originate in the body’s lymphatic system, which is responsible for creating and transporting white blood cells (T cells). T-cell lymphoma is one type of cancer in which T cells can become cancerous and cause skin problems. Visit our online health library to learn more about T-cell and other lymphomas.

Treatments and Services

Within the skin cancer program at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center at Keck Medicine of USC in Los Angeles, a wide array of specialists are dedicated to each patient’s care. Specialties include dermatology, medical oncology, surgical oncology, dermatopathology, radiation oncology, genetics, and preventive medicine. The team meets regularly to discuss the best course of treatment for each patient.

We make sure the patient is an inclusive, decision-making member of the team. We also provide some of the latest advances in skin cancer care, many of which were developed at USC Keck Medicine. While the best treatment for skin cancer is early detection and prevention, our treatments and services for more advanced cancers include:

Medical Therapies

Basal cell molecular therapy is a treatment for basal cell carcinoma, a new drug called vismodegib works through a growing cell’s developmental process called the Hedgehog signaling pathway to halt cancer.

Cancer genetics help determine if you have an inherited cancer, or are at risk for cancer. These cancers result from a genetic mutation that spurs the growth of many types of cancers throughout the body and a large number of cancers are inherited. Our counselors can determine a patient’s personal cancer genetics with testing.

Dermoscopy uses a small, scope-like device to magnify a suspected skin cancer.

Immunotherapy stimulates your own immune system to attack cancer cells. Melanoma and other cancers often will “switch off” certain proteins on their cells, which allow the cells to grow without getting attacked by the immune system. New immune therapy drugs are able to restore that switch function, opening the door to immune cell attacks on cancerous cells.

Mohs surgical technique is a method removes one thin layer of the melanoma at a time. Each “slice” is examined for cancer cells under a microscope until a layer shows no signs of cancer. This enables the surgeon to remove as much of the cancer as possible while conserving the surrounding skin.

Mole mapping is an examination that involves identifying all the moles on your skin, and comparing changes in mole shape, size, or color over time.

Prevention and Screening programs include traditional methods such as dermoscopy or mole mapping but also new advanced methods of spotting cancer.

Radiation therapy involves non-invasive delivery of radiation using techniques such as the CyberKnife or TrueBeam, or other types of therapies. Visit our online health library to learn more about radiation therapy.

Surgery can excise any skin cancer, from basal and squamous cells cancers and the smallest, thinnest melanoma to Stage 4 melanoma.

Targeted molecular therapy is a targeted treatment. Researchers have discovered variations in genes that are associated with melanoma and other skin cancers, treatments that target those genes (or the products of those genes) can be directed at cancer cells, while sparing healthy cells. Sometimes, these drugs can work when chemotherapy doesn’t.

UV dosimeter was developed at USC and UV dosimeter gauges the amount of sun you get during a week. It records the amount of ultraviolet light received, and them tag the light exposure by time, and location. We can then print out your exposure history for the week and then advise you on how to decrease their exposure to the sun.

Patient information

In addition to resources for patients, the skin cancer program is teaching out to the community. Currently, the program plans to sponsor programs to build more shade at schools, and is teaching a majority of students in Los Angeles country about sun safe precautions and skin cancer screening.

Your experience with the skin cancer program will vary according to the type of cancer you have, and the types of screening and treatments you receive. Some cancers, if benign, may not need to be treated, but you may have to be screened and perform self-screening to make sure any unusual growths are detected early. Other treatments, such as medical therapies and even some minor surgeries, will be handled on an out-patient basis. If you are receiving radiotherapy, you may have to come to the cancer center for treatments.

Resources

There are a number of online local, national and international resources to learn more about skin cancers. In addition, USC hosts patient support groups for a number of conditions; you can check with your team members about a support group that is appropriate for you.

Patient Outreach and Community Center
The outreach and community center is a modern facility with print and electronic cancer education and resource materials devoted to patients, their families and community members seeking information on cancer. Learn more about the center here: http://uscnorriscancer.usc.edu/patient_care/peoc/

Clinical trials

Patients have the option of taking part in clinical trials being conducted at Keck Medical Center of USC. While clinical trial participation does not ensure that an effective treatment will be received, participation does help provide invaluable information for future treatments, and possibly a cure in the future.

American Cancer Society

www.cancer.org

American Society for Clinical Oncology
www.cancer.net

National Cancer Institute
www.cancer.gov

Skin Cancer Foundation
www.skincancer.org
American Academy of Dermatology
www.aad.org

Our Physicians

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Leslie Ballas, MD

Practicing Locations

  • USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital
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Eric Chang, MD

Practicing Locations

  • USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital
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Brittney DeClerck, MD

Practicing Locations

  • Keck Medicine of USC - Pasadena
  • USC Healthcare Center 4
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Gene H. Kim, MD

Practicing Locations

  • Keck Hospital of USC
  • USC Healthcare Center 4
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Niels C. Kokot, MD

Practicing Locations

  • Keck Hospital of USC
  • USC Healthcare Center 4
  • USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital
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Alexander Markarian, MD, FACS, FASCRS

Practicing Locations

  • USC Healthcare Center 4
  • USC Verdugo Hills Hospital
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David Peng, MD, MPH

Practicing Locations

  • Keck Medicine of USC - Pasadena
  • USC Healthcare Center 4
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Jon-Paul Pepper, MD

Practicing Locations

  • USC Healthcare Center 4
  • USC Verdugo Hills Hospital
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Stephen F. Sener, MD

Practicing Locations

  • Keck Hospital of USC
  • Keck Medicine of USC - Pasadena
  • USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital
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Howard Silberman, MD

Practicing Locations

  • USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital
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William W. Tseng, MD

Practicing Locations

  • Keck Hospital of USC
  • LAC+USC Medical Center
  • Other Locations
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Michael K. Wong, MD, PhD, FRCPC

Practicing Locations

  • USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital