Skin cancer (nonmelanoma)
Care for people diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell skin cancer, including screening, diagnosis, treatment and follow-up services, plus support for your well-being – mind, body and spirit – through every phase of care.
What it is
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. More than 2 million cases are diagnosed each year. About half of Americans will have skin cancer at least once by the time they are 65.
The two most common types of skin cancer are
- Basal cell carcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma account for more than 90 percent of all skin cancers. Skin is made up of three layers with the epidermis being the outermost layer. Basal cells are located at the bottom of the epidermis. These cells constantly divide, flatten and move to the surface as outer skin layers die off. Basal cell carcinomas are slow growing and seldom spread but can invade bone and other tissues under the skin if left untreated.
Squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell skin cancer is the second most common form of skin cancer. It's usually found on areas of your body that have been damaged by ultraviolet rays from the sun or tanning beds. Unlike other types of skin cancer, squamous cell skin cancer can spread to your tissues, bones and lymph nodes, where it may become hard to treat.
Squamous cell skin cancer can occur on all areas of your body, including in your mucous membranes and genitals. It is most common in areas that are exposed to the sun, such as the tip of your ear, top of your head and scalp, face, lower lip, neck, hands, arms and legs. Signs of sun damage include wrinkles, pigment changes, freckles, age spots, loss of elasticity and broken blood vessels.
Skin cancer symptoms
Skin cancer symptoms vary from person to person. These symptoms may include:
- change on the skin, such as a new spot or one that changes in size, shape or color
- sore that doesn’t heal
- spot or sore that changes in sensation, itchiness, tenderness or pain
- small, smooth, shiny, pale or waxy lump
- firm red lump that may bleed or develops a crust
- flat, red spot that is rough, dry or scaly
Good to know
Most skin cancer is caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet light. Most of this comes from the sun, but indoor tanning beds also increase skin cancer risk.
Your risk of developing skin cancer increases with:
- a family history of skin cancer
- a large number of moles
- actinic keratosis, a precancerous condition of thick, scaly patches of skin
- Age: the longer you are exposed to the sun over time, the higher your risk
- fair skin, blue or green eyes, or blond or red hair, freckles and a tendency to sunburn
- had many severe sunburns early in life.
- living in a sunny climate or have long-term, daily exposure to sunlight (such as people who work outside)
- previous skin cancer
- previous skin injuries, such as a major scar or burn
- working around coal tar, arsenic compounds, creosote, pitch and paraffin oil
Good for preventing
Knowing your own skin is the first step to early detection of skin cancer. Get in the habit of examining your skin so you become familiar with what’s normal for you. Check your skin once a month and talk with your health care provider promptly if you notice anything unusual.
Have your health care provider or dermatologist check your skin once every three years if you are 20-40 and once a year if you are over 40.
- Seek shade whenever possible.
- Wear protective clothing, including a hat, long sleeves and long pants.
- Use sunscreen, and make sure to apply it properly.
- Wear sunglasses that block UV rays.
- Avoid tanning beds
- Don’t smoke
- Keep your immune system as strong as possible.
Good for treating
A biopsy of the suspicious lesion is the only way to find out for sure if you have skin cancer. Your doctor will remove a small amount of tissue from the area.
Most squamous cell skin cancers are found, treated and removed at an early stage. Small squamous cell cancers can usually be cured. Larger squamous cell skin cancers are harder to treat. Fast-growing cancers have a higher risk of coming back.
In rare cases, squamous cell skin cancers can spread to your lymph nodes or other parts of your body.
Basal cell cancers can be treated with
- Topical medication for superficial basal cell cancers
- Surgical removal of the cancers cells, including Mohs micrographic surgery, surgical excision, curettage and electrodessication, and freezing (cryosurgery)
Treatments may include one or a combination of:
- cryotherapy, which uses freezing and cold temperature to treat the skin. It is not recommended for s not recommended for large, invasive tumors or skin cancer on the nose, ears, eyelids, scalp or legs
- radiation therapy
Source: Allina Health Cancer Care
Reviewed by: Allina Health Cancer Care
First published: 6/3/2019
Last reviewed: 6/3/2019