Nonmelanoma skin cancers:
Basal cell skin cancer - Squamous cell skin cancer

Nonmelanoma skin cancers (usually basal cell skin cancer and squamous cell skin cancers) are the most common cancers of the skin. Basal cell skin cancer is sometimes misspelled as basil cell skin cancer. Both are called nonmelanoma because they behave quite differently. This group of cancers includes all skin cancers except one, malignant melanoma, which develops from melanocytes which are the pigment producing cells in the skin. There are many types of nonmelanoma skin cancer, but the 2 most common are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Diagram courtesy of the American Cancer Society

Basal Cell Skin Cancer

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of cancer worldwide. Basal cell skin cancer begins in the lowest layer of the epidermis, called the basal cell layer. According to the American Cancer Society, 3 out of 4 skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas. This type of cancer begins on areas of the skin that has had high UV exposure, such as the head, neck and back of the hands. Basal cell carcinoma grows slowly, and it is unusual for a basal cell cancer to spread to distant parts of the body. But if it is not treated, it can grow into nearby areas and invade the bone or other tissues beneath the skin. After treatment, basal cell carcinoma can come back (recur) in the same place on the skin. People who have had one basal cell cancer will often develop a new skin cancer within 5 years. Basal cell cancer does not usually travel in the bloodstream. It infiltrates the area destroying the surrounding tissue.

Squamous Cell Skin Cancer

Squamous cell skin cancer is the second most common skin cancer, with basal cell skin cancer being the number one skin cancer. Squamous cell skin cancer begins in the upper part of the epidermis and accounts for about 20% of all skin cancers. Similar to basal cell skin cancer, squamous cell skin cancer starts on areas of the skin that have had high UV exposure. Squamous cell skin cancer is a tumor that arises in the outer layer of the skin, and usually appears on places of the body such as the face, ear, neck, lips, and backs of the hands.

Squamous cell skin cancers are more likely to invade tissues beneath the skin, and somewhat more likely to spread to lymph nodes or distant parts of the body than are basal cell skin cancers. According to the AAD, more than 250,000 squamous cell skin cancers are diagnosed every year in the United States. If treated in a timely manner, it is uncommon for squamous cell carcinoma to spread to other areas of the body.

Skin Cancer Detection

Early skin cancer detection is vital to prevent basal cell skin cancer and squamous cell skin cancer. Some tips for early skin cancer detection include:

  • Have your doctor check your skin on a regular basis.
  • Check your own skin once each month in front of a full length mirror. A smaller, hand held mirror may be used for difficult areas that are hard to see.
  • Know your own pattern of freckles, moles, and other marks on your skin so that you will be able to identify any changes that occur.
  • Be aware of new growths, a spot that is getting larger, or a sore that does not heal within 90 days.
  • Skin cancer detection of basal cell skin cancer often appears as flat, firm, pale areas or as small, raised, pink or red, translucent, shiny, waxy areas that may bleed after minor injury.
  • Skin cancer detection of squamous cell skin cancer appears as growing lumps with a rough surface, ore as a flat, reddish patch that grows slowly.
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