There are two types of non-melanoma skin cancers, basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer overall, causing 80% of all skin cancers. Squamous cell carcinoma is responsible for 15% of all skin cancers. Both types of skin cancer come from the keratinocyte, the cell type that makes up most of the top layer of skin, the epidermis.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma can appear as a small pink bump on the skin. It is often mistaken for a pimple but does not heal, which is a warning sign. It will slowly grow in size and may develop small blood vessels on the surface that make the bump bleed easily. BCC can also appear as a small red patch, a scar-like area or a non-healing sore on the skin. The most common areas affected are the body parts that have had the most sun exposure, such as the scalp, face, ears, neck and arms. Basal cell carcinoma is slow growing and very rarely metastasizes (travels to other body parts). It will grow and invade more deeply in the skin if left untreated and can be very disfiguring. Therefore, early diagnosis and treatment is important.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma most often manifests as a raised, tender “wart.” Usually an SCC has a central scaly or crusty core. It can even look like a small red volcano with a core of scaliness at the center. SCCs can develop from actinic keratoses. An early SCC can also look like a red, scaly patch and can be mistaken for a rash such as ringworm. Squamous cell carcinoma can metastasize especially when located in a high-risk area such as the lip or ear. Early detection and treatment will always lead to the best outcome.
Who’s at risk for non-melanoma skin cancers?
People at risk of developing the non-melanoma skin cancers (NMSC) include those with fair skin, hair and eyes, those who’ve had lots of sun exposure and those who have had NMSC before. People who live in the southwest are at high risk of developing these skin cancers because of the constant, intense exposure to the sun. Others at risk include those with a depressed immune system such as solid organ transplant recipients. Individuals treated with radiation are at increased risk as well. Protecting yourself against UV light can prevent NMSC.
Treatments for non-melanoma skin cancers
There are many different ways to treat NMSCs at High Desert Dermatology including destructions, topical chemotherapy, and surgery. Destructions are procedures designed to physically remove the NMSC by cutting, scraping, lasering, cauterizing (“burning”), or freezing with liquid nitrogen. A common destruction used to treat NMSC is called electrodesiccation and curettage (ED&C), which is essentially a “burning and scraping” procedure. Topical chemotherapy, using drugs applied to the skin to remove the cancerous cells, can be used alone or together with destructions. Surgery means cutting the cancer out of the skin, either by way of a standard excision or Mohs micrographic surgery. This procedure, named after Dr. Frederick Mohs, is a highly specialized surgical technique that is indicated for tumors located in cosmetically sensitive areas such as the nose, eyelid, lips and rims of ears, very large tumors, tumors with ill-defined margins, tumors with an aggressive microscopic appearance and recurrent tumors. High Desert Dermatology does not perform mohs microgrphic surgery however can determine if the procedure would be appropriate and provide a referal to surgeons in the area.
Please contact us if you have any questions or concerns about non-melanoma skin cancer.