Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer

Researchers estimate that as many as half of Americans who live to be 65 will have either basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma at least once.

Everybody should be on guard for skin cancer these days—particularly those with a fair complexion or who have spent a lot of time catching rays.

While melanoma is the most deadly form of the disease, non-melanoma variations including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are incredibly common, affecting more than 3 million people each year, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. In fact, researchers estimate that as many as half of Americans who live to be 65 will have one of these two forms of non-melanoma skin cancer at least once.

“It’s extremely common—there’s an epidemic of skin cancer,” says Steven Rotter, a dermatologist with Forefront Dermatology in Vienna.

Many people first notice something is wrong just by looking—they’ll come across a spot, often on the head, arms or neck, that’s changing shape, size or color. Or they’ll find a wound that just won’t heal.

For small, non-melanoma cancers found on the body, the lesion can often be removed with a process known as “scrape and burn” or by using cryotherapy to freeze it off. Mohs micrographic surgery, where a doctor removes layers of tissue one-by-one to be examined under a microscope, is often employed on the face or in cases where the tumor has grown in size.

“That’s where the least amount of normal skin is removed, so the wound is the smallest, and at the same time it has the highest cure rate of any method,” says Rotter. “So especially when it’s on your face, when you don’t want to remove more nose, more eyelid, more lip or more ear than you need to, but you want to get it all, this gets rid of those problems.”

The Mohs procedure is also used in cases where a non-melanoma skin cancer has returned after being previously removed, because odds of recurrence are much lower than with other methods.

Rotter notes that patients who have already dealt with a non-melanoma skin cancer should be seeing their doctor once or twice a year for regular check-ups and should make an appointment if they notice any new changes on their skin.

(Top Doctors 2018February 2018)