When discussing the risks and potential signs of skin cancer, melanomas tend to hog the spotlight. Due to its severity and the potential for a life-threatening prognosis, this form of skin cancer is the most dreaded of all. However, with melanoma diagnoses accounting for only 1% of total skin cancer cases, it’s important that we also discuss the signs, symptoms, and risks associated with the lesser known basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas (which, together, account for roughly 5.4 million diagnoses each year in the United States).
Risks associated with Basal Cell and Squamous Cell Carcinomas
Although fatalities due to carcinomas are uncommon (2,000 people per year die from these cancers) they do pose some serious risks to patients. One of the greatest risks of these cancers is that, if left undiagnosed and untreated, they can damage nearby healthy tissue and spread to other areas of the body such as organs and lymph nodes.
How These Cancers Form in Our Skin
While both basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas form in the outermost later of the skin and are largely caused by direct UV exposure, the ways in which they form present different characteristics.
Squamous cells comprise the top layer of the epidermis. Typically, these cells are shed to make room for new cells. When these cells grow out of control, however, carcinoma can develop. Squamous cell carcinoma is usually scaly and rough to the touch due to a build-up of hard, dead skin.
Basal cells, on the other hand, make up the lower part of the epidermis. Basal cells constantly divide within the skin and move up the epidermis to turn into squamous cells, thereby replacing dead cells at the skin’s surface. Basal cell carcinoma most commonly presents as a pearly-white lesion, although they can be pink or reddish in color.
Risk Factors Associated with Basal and Squamous Cell Carcinoma
While anyone can develop either basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma, there are some risk factors that make people more susceptible to these cancers. These include:
- Unprotected sun exposure or tanning bed use
- Having lighter-colored skin
- Exposure to radiation treatments
- A history of severe burns and/or prolonged skin inflammation
- A weakened immune system
- Having HPV (human papillomavirus infection)
Additionally, being older and male makes patients statistically more likely to develop carcinoma in their lifetime.
Advice on Treatment Options for Skin Cancers
Landon Barton, PA-C is a dermatology physician assistant at Vanguard who specializes in medical dermatology and the diagnosis of skin cancer. When seeking treatment options for skin cancer, he shares that “the recommended treatment options for skin cancer may vary depending on the type, size, and location of the skin cancer. Once you receive your diagnosis, your dermatologic provider will be happy to discuss all recommended treatment options with you.”
Landon goes on to say that “while surgical removal of a skin cancer commonly has the highest cure rate, it may not always be indicated. In many cases, a less invasive treatment option may be considered.”
When performing at-home examinations, Landon advises that patients be especially diligent when evaluating “any lesion that grows, changes in appearance, bleeds, or does not heal in about three weeks.”
Schedule Your Annual Skin Exam
If you have any concerns about a bump, lesion, or area of discoloration on your skin, or if it has been over a year since your last skin exam, contact Vanguard Skin Specialists today at 719-355-1585 to schedule your annual skin exam.
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