How Can You Identify Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer?

The rise in melanoma -- the most serious type of skin cancer -- has tripled over the past few decades, causing many health organizations and even the federal government to emphasize the importance of diligent sunscreen application and careful sun exposure. However, there are two less famous forms of skin cancer that are much more common. Read on to learn more about how to prevent (and what to do if you suspect you have) basal or squamous cell carcinoma.

What are the signs of basal and squamous cell carcinoma?

Although melanoma is the most feared type of skin cancer due to its higher death rate, the two more "minor" forms can also present many problems -- often because they are ignored until they turn more serious. However, basal and squamous cell carcinoma together make up about 90 percent of all new skin cancer diagnoses, so your odds of being diagnosed with one of these types of cancer is much more likely than your odds of being diagnosed with melanoma.

  • Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer, and usually begins as a minor-looking red or pink pimple on a surface of your body frequently exposed to the sun (particularly the scalp, earlobes, or chest). However, unlike most pimples, this bump will remain and eventually turn larger and scabby. If left untreated, it can morph into a deep depression or other disfigurement, and in rare cases may even spread to other areas of the skin.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) forms in the middle layer of skin (as opposed to BCC, which forms in the outermost layer, and melanoma, which forms in the innermost layer) and can begin as a bump or lesion, just like BCC. However, SCC usually escalates more quickly, and will eventually form a larger scaly patch (rather than a smaller pimple-like bump).

What should you do if you suspect you have basal or squamous cell carcinoma?

Whenever you find yourself noticing a new bump or mole that doesn't go away after a brief period of time, you should consult a dermatologist. In most cases, the doctor will take a biopsy of the suspicious area and report back to you with the results.

If you do have BCC or SCC, don't panic. These types of cancer are usually easily treatable with minimal invasion. For mild or minor cases of BCC and SCC, all that is needed is to excise the area containing the lesion and test the surrounding areas for any cancer cells. You'll need to undergo more frequent cancer screenings for the next few years, but should enjoy a long and healthy life. Talk to your local expert, such as Vail Dermatology, for more information.