Non-Melanoma Skin Cancers

Most people have heard of melanoma skin cancer, but not everyone knows the two types of non-melanoma skin cancer: basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. It forms at the bottom of the top layer of skin and grows relatively slowly. Squamous cell carcinoma occurs in the very outer layer of the skin. Less common than basal cell, squamous cell is more likely to grow into the deeper layers of the skin and, though this is uncommon, can spread to other parts of the body.

Basal cell carcinoma presents as pearly “bumps” that are either smooth or rough to the touch. When new spots appear, basal cell skin cancers can itch, bleed, and seem like sores that never heal. If untreated, it can spread to the surrounding skin and permeate into the bone. Thankfully, basal cell can be easily treated by excision, Mohs surgery, a procedure called “curettage and electrodessication,” and even topical medicated creams. Some families have an inherited condition where they can form hundreds of basal cell carcinomas.

Dermatology Arts’ Dr. Master worked with internationally renowned Basal Cell Nevus Syndrome (Gorlin’s Syndrome) researcher Ervin Epstein, MD at the University of California San Francisco in the early 1990s. Their work resulted in a publication which localized a tumor suppressor gene to the long arm of the Chromosome 9.

Various types of squamous cell carcinoma exist. There are keratoacanthomas, in situ, invasive, etc. These skin cancers often appear on the face, ears, neck, and back of the hands where sun exposure is high. Pre-cancerous spots known as actinic keratosis also appear in these areas and can become squamous cell carcinoma. Typically, cryotherapy or medicated creams can improve these spots before they become cancerous. The same treatment methods used for basal cell carcinoma can also treat squamous cell carcinoma.

Non-melanoma skin cancers are generally less harmful than melanoma, but far more common, and still require treatment. One of the best ways to prevent skin cancer is sun protection. Tanned skin, blistering sunburns, and other types of prolonged sun exposure are the main culprits for non-melanoma skin cancers. Wear sun protective clothing, when outside for long periods of time, and reapply sunscreen every hour to keep your skin looking younger and avoid future doctor visits.