Melanoma may be the scary guy on the skin cancer block, but he’s not the only resident. Learn what the other types of skin cancer look like. Find out how to prevent them. And know what to expect if you’re diagnosed with one.
It’s likely you’ve heard of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. But, did you know there are two other major types of skin cancer? They’re termed “basal cell carcinoma” and “cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma”.
Together, the three types (and other rare types) make skin cancer the most common form of all cancers. In fact, more people receive skin cancer diagnoses each year in the United States than all other cancers combined.
All three types are considered skin cancers because they involve abnormal growth of skin cells.
Early detection increases the success of treatment with the three types of skin cancer. Treating the cancer early can increase the likelihood the cancer will be eradicated, lessen scarring, and help prevent reoccurrence.
All three types of skin cancer are most commonly caused by sun exposure. Cancer causing rays can come from both the natural sun and tanning beds.
Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma differ though in other ways. For example, basal cell carcinoma and cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma are more common though less serious than melanoma. They each also have a unique appearance, differing places of origin, and treatment modalities.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer. Incidences of BCC have increased over the years. An estimated 3.6 million people are diagnosed with BCC each year in the U.S. People with light or fair skin are more likely to develop it. However, it can occur on people of any skin tone.
Basal cell carcinomas appear more frequently on sun-exposed areas of the body, although they can occur anywhere. It often takes years after sun exposure for them to form. However, those exposed to a lot of sun or tanning beds may develop them sooner.
What Does Basal Cell Carcinoma Look Like?
Basal cell carcinomas can present in different ways. They often look like an open sore that does not heal. The sore may bleed or scab and heal and then come back. They may also look like a pink, red, clear, white, or in people of color, black or brown bump.
Additionally, BCC may mimic a flat scar that is white, yellow or waxy in color. And in other cases, they may be a reddish patch or a small pink growth with a scabbed appearance.
Because of the various appearances of BCC, it’s important to have a trained dermatologist look at suspicious spots.
How Is Basal Cell Carcinoma Treated?
Treatment options for basal cell carcinoma depends on the location and size of the cancer. Superficial cases may be treated by topical medications. Curettage and electrosurgery, a procedure in which the spot is scraped and then heated, is a common treatment for smaller BCCs. Excision and cryosurgery are options while Mohs surgery is often the best treatment for BCC skin cancers in some locations.
Effective treatment for BCC can be done in office, requiring no general anesthesia and very little or no down time.
How Dangerous is Basal Cell Carcinoma?
Basal cell carcinoma is often considered the least dangerous form of skin cancer. This form of cancer is usually slow growing and fairly localized. Although it can spread to nearby tissue and bone, treatment can prevent that. First time treatment options are successful 80-95% of the time.
Even though BCC is not considered a life-threatened cancer in most instances, it is very important to get is treated. Early treatment produces the best results.
If left untreated, BCC can cause disfigurement due to the damage of skin, tissue, and bone. Treatment can also insure your BCC is non-aggressive and unlikely to spread.
Cutaneous Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinomas can occur on various parts of the body. The word “cutaneous” simply identifies it as having originated on the skin.
Cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (cSCC) is the second most common form of skin cancer. In fact, the Skin Cancer Foundation estimates the cSCC has increased by 200 percent in the past three decades. Approximately 1.8 million people are now diagnosed with it every year. It is estimated that 7 – 11% of the population will develop cSCC in their lifetime.
What Does Cutaneous Squamous Cell Carcinoma Look Like?
Cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma can look slightly different on various people.
It often looks like a red, scaly patch or an open sores. Additionally, it can be a thick or wart-like growth on the skin. The spot may scab over, bleed, or become itchy.
It is most common on parts of the body that are frequently exposed to sun. However, it can occur in other places, such as the genitals.
How Is Squamous Cell Carcinoma Treated?
Cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma is treated similarly to basal cell carcinomas. Excision, Mohs surgery and radiation therapy are often used. As with BCC treatment, procedures are done in office. If anesthetic is used, it is local. Little or no down time is required after treatment.
In certain rare cases, immunotherapy is also an effective treatment option. Cemiplimab-rwlc (Libtayo®) was approved in 2018 and involves a single dose treatment.
How Dangerous is Cutaneous Squamous Cell Carcinoma?
It’s important to know that the vast majority of cutaneous squamous cell carcinomas are treated effectively. The condition is usually not life-threatening.
In some instances, however, cSCC can spread to other parts of the body. Lymph nodes, for example, can be affected. In these cases, SCC becomes more serious and dangerous. In some cases, when left undetected or untreated for a long time, SCC can be fatal.
It’s important to have any suspicious skin lesions evaluated by a board certified dermatologist. Our dermatology offices in Hagerstown and Martinsburg provide evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment for all types of skin cancer. Schedule you skin cancer check today.