Is this topic for you?
This topic is about
nonmelanoma skin cancer, including
basal cell cancer and
squamous cell cancer. For information about
melanoma skin cancer, see the topic
Skin Cancer, Melanoma.
What is nonmelanoma skin cancer?
Skin cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in the skin. It is the most
common type of cancer. It is almost always cured when it is found early and
treated. So it is important to see your doctor if you have changes in your
Most skin cancers are the nonmelanoma type. There are two
main types of nonmelanoma skin cancer:
- Basal cell carcinoma . Most nonmelanoma
cancers are this type. It can damage deeper tissues, such as muscles and bones.
It almost never spreads to other parts of the body.
- Squamous cell carcinoma . This type is
less common. It often develops from a small rough spot that grows in sun-damaged skin. It
sometimes spreads to other parts of the body.
There are other types of skin cancer that are not melanoma. But these are much less common. They include Merkel cell carcinoma and several kinds of sarcomas.
What causes it?
Nonmelanoma skin cancer is usually
caused by too much sun. Using tanning beds or sunlamps too much can also cause
How is nonmelanoma skin cancer diagnosed?
cancer usually appears as a growth that changes in color, shape, or size. This
can be a sore that does not heal or a change in a mole or skin growth. These changes
usually happen in areas that get the most sun—your head, neck, back, chest, or
shoulders. The most common place for skin cancer is your nose.
Your doctor will use a
biopsy to find out if you have skin cancer. This means
taking a sample of the growth and sending it to a lab to see if it contains
What increases your risk for nonmelanoma skin cancer?
The single greatest risk is from ultraviolet (UV) radiation. This comes from exposure to the sun, especially during the middle of the day. It also comes from exposure to artificial sources of UV, such as indoor tanning.
If you have light skin that sunburns easily, you are more likely to get
Your risk is higher if you are male or if you are
over 40. Your risk is higher if others in your family have had it or if you
have had it before.
You may also be more likely to get it if you
have been exposed often to strong
X-rays, to certain chemicals (such as arsenic, coal
tar, and creosote), or to radioactive substances (such as radium).
How is it treated?
Your doctor will want to remove
all of the cancer. There are several ways to do this. The most common way is to
numb your skin so that it does not hurt, then cut out the cancer. You will be
awake while this is done.
This surgery almost always cures
nonmelanoma skin cancer. Other treatments include radiation, medicines that are put on the skin (topical therapies), and photodynamic therapy (PDT).
After your treatment, you will need
regular checkups, because having skin cancer once means you are more likely to
get it again.
Can nonmelanoma skin cancer be prevented?
prevent it by being careful in the sun. Stay out of the sun at midday, when the
sun's rays are strongest. Wear sunscreen or other sun protection. Do not use
tanning booths or sunlamps.
Frequently Asked Questions