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What to Expect With Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer

Skin cancer, the most common cancer in the United States, happens when abnormal skin cells grow out of control.

Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers are known as nonmelanoma cancers. They are usually easy to treat, especially when found early. Melanoma is a different form of skin cancer that is more serious.

Up to 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will have one of these nonmelanoma skin cancers. Nearly all of these cancers — about 90 percent — are traced to exposure to UV radiation from the sun or tanning booths.

  • Basal cell cancer (or carcinoma) is the most common form of skin cancer. Treatment is usually very effective. However if not treated early enough, it can spread and damage nearby tissue.
  • Squamous cell, the second most common skin cancer, is also easy to treat when found early. Untreated, squamous cells can spread to other parts of body, becoming a more serious cancer.  

Nonmelanoma cancers are usually treated by dermatologists (skin specialists) or in some cases, surgeons.

At Kaiser Permanente medical offices, we care for our skin cancer patients using the latest medical knowledge and advanced technology. Your care team includes both primary care and dermatology. Your team will help you understand what to expect and how they will treat your cancer.

Nonmelanoma Treatment

Basal and squamous cell cancers are diagnosed by a biopsy. After diagnosis, the dermatologist will discuss the treatment, which is usually removing the growth at an office visit. Most often, you will not need any further treatment.

After treatment

Since treatment for most skin cancers is usually done during an office visit, recovery time is short.

Most people don’t have pain afterward, though there may be some bruising. The wound generally heals naturally on its own.

Returning to activities: Most people can get back to their normal activities immediately, as long as they follow directions for care of the wound.

People who’ve had skin cancer are more likely to develop it again. Protect your skin from UV radiation, from the sun or tanning beds. Wear protective clothing, a hat, and sunscreen whenever you’re outside in the daylight.  

Your care team will give you a follow-up care plan for wound care, removal of stitches if you needed them, and any other office visits you might need. Regular skin checks are an important part of the follow-up care. Your doctors and care team can answer any questions or concerns that may arise between appointments.