What is nonmelanoma skin cancer?

Nonmelanoma skin cancer

Nonmelanoma skin cancer is a cancer that starts in skin cells. Unlike melanoma, which starts in skin cells that make pigment (melanin), nonmelanoma skin cancers start in other kinds of skin cells, such as basal cells. Basal cell skin cancer and squamous cell skin cancer are the most common types of nonmelanoma skin cancer.

This kind of cancer usually appears as a change in the skin, such as a growth, an irritation or sore that doesn't heal, or a change in a mole or a skin growth. Most cases are caused by too much exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays.

When it's found and treated early, nonmelanoma skin cancer is almost always cured. It is usually treated with surgery to remove the cancer. Other treatments include radiation therapy, medicines that are put on the skin (topical therapy), and photodynamic therapy.

What are the symptoms of nonmelanoma skin cancer?

Skin cancer usually appears as a growth that changes in color, shape, or size. This can be a sore that doesn't heal or changes in a mole or skin growth. Basal cell skin cancer usually affects the face, head, and trunk. Squamous cell skin cancer usually affects the head, neck, trunk, arms, and legs.

How is nonmelanoma skin cancer treated?

Your doctor will want to remove all of the cancer. The most common way is surgery to cut out the abnormal growth. Radiation may be done if surgery isn't an option. Other treatments include medicines that are put on the skin (topical therapy), chemotherapy, and photodynamic therapy. You will need regular checkups.

How can you lower your risk for nonmelanoma skin cancer?

You can help lower your risk for all types of skin cancer by being careful in the sun. For example, stay out of the sun during midday hours or seek shade. Wear sun-protective clothes when you're outdoors. Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 on exposed skin. Avoid sunbathing and tanning salons.

How is nonmelanoma skin cancer diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask about your past health and do a physical exam. This will include taking a close look at the skin growth. The doctor may take a sample (biopsy) of the growth to test in a lab. A biopsy can confirm whether the cells are cancer.

How can you care for yourself when you have nonmelanoma skin cancer?

Protect your skin from ultraviolet (UV) rays. For example, stay out of the sun during midday hours, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen, and wear protective clothing. Get skin exams as advised by your doctor and check all of your own skin for changes. Avoid medicines that can make your skin more sensitive to UV rays.

How is surgery used to treat nonmelanoma skin cancer?

Surgery is the most common and successful way to treat nonmelanoma skin cancer.

The main types of surgery for this cancer include:

Excision.

The doctor removes the skin cancer along with some healthy skin tissue around it (margin).

Curettage and electrosurgery.

Curettage uses a spoon-shaped tool (curette) to scrape off the skin cancer. Electrosurgery controls the bleeding. It also destroys any remaining cancer cells.

Mohs micrographic surgery.

The skin cancer is removed one layer at a time. Each layer is checked for cancer cells right after it's removed.

Other types of surgery may be done. They include cryosurgery, laser surgery, and dermabrasion.

What increases your risk for nonmelanoma skin cancer?

The greatest risk is from ultraviolet (UV) radiation. This comes from exposure to the sun and from indoor tanning. Other risk factors include having light skin that sunburns easily, being older, genetics, chronic inflammation, and taking medicines that suppress your immune system. But people of all skin colors are at risk for skin cancer.

What is nonmelanoma skin cancer?

Nonmelanoma skin cancer is a cancer that starts in skin cells that don't make pigment (melanin). The two main types are basal cell skin cancer and squamous cell skin cancer. When found and treated early, these types of cancer are almost always cured.

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