Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer - What Treatments You Can Expect
Nonmelanoma skin cancers are the
most common cancers of the skin. Two types of non-melanoma skin cancers are
most prevalent: basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
Basal cell carcinoma: These
comprise 70 to 80 percent of the cancers in men and 90 percent of the cancers
in women. These cancers begin in the lowest layer of the skin, which is called
the basal cell layer. These types of cancers usually begin on areas of the body
that are exposed to sunlight, such as the head and neck. It used to be more
common for middle-aged and older people to have this kind of cancer, but it's
seen increasingly in younger people now too.
Basal cell carcinoma grows slowly.
It rarely spreads to the lymph nodes or to parts of the body that are far from
its original site. But if it's not treated, it can spread to nearby areas, such
as the bone or under the skin. It's also very common for basal cell carcinoma
to come back, often in the same place. In fact, about 35 percent to 50 percent
of the people who have this type of cancer experience a recurrence within five
Squamous cell carcinoma: These
comprise about 10 to 30 percent of all skin cancers, and are most likely to
appear on the face, ear, neck and back of the hand-areas that receive more sun
exposure. These cancers also sometimes develop in scars or skin ulcers.
Squamous cell carcinoma is more aggressive
than basal cell. It's more likely to spread to lymph nodes or organs.
Treatment for nonmelanoma skin
Your treatment for skin cancer is based
on the following factors:
The stage of the cancer (whether
it has spread deeper into the skin or to other places in the body)
The type of skin cancer it is
The size and location of the tumor
Your overall health
Treatment can include:
Mohs micrographic surgery:
The surgeon cuts the tumor from the skin in layers, checking each layer for
cancer cells. When no more cancer cells are seen, the surgeon stops the removal
of layers. This type of surgery is often used for cancers on the face.
Simple excision: The surgeon
cuts the tumor from the skin, including some of the normal skin that surrounds
Shave excision: Using a
small blade, the surgeon shaves the abnormal area from the surface of the
Electrodessication and curettage:
The surgeon uses a sharp, spoon-shaped tool to cut the tumor from the skin,
and then treats the area with an electric current to stop the bleeding and
to kill any cancer cells that may remain.
Cryosurgery: The surgeon
freezes and destroys abnormal tissue. This is sometimes used for smaller tumors,
but not for larger ones and generally not on the nose, ears eyelids, scalp
Laser surgery: The surgeon
uses a narrow beam of intense light to remove any abnormalities.
Dermabrasion: A rotating
wheel on the surface of the skin removes skin cells.
Chemotherapy: For nonmelanoma
skin cancer, chemotherapy is usually applied to the skin in a cream or lotion.
Radiation therapy: This
is often the preferred choice for skin cancers that are in areas that make
surgery difficult, such as the eyelids, nose or ears.
Regular follow-up extremely
After your nonmelanoma skin cancer
treatments are over, it's still important to get routine checks to make sure
the cancer hasn't returned. As we mentioned above, skin cancers often do return,
in the same location they were before. Work closely with your doctor to create
a follow-up plan that gives you the best chance at catching any new cancers
early, so that your treatment and recovery are as easy on you as possible.
The American Cancer Society; The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; The National Cancer Institute