Basal Cell & Squamous Cell Carcinomas

Basal Cell Carcinoma

This skin cancer usually appears as a small, fleshy bump or nodule – most often on the head, neck and hands. Occasionally these cancers may appear on the trunk as red patches. Basal cell carcinomas seldom occur in African Americans, but they are the most common skin cancers found in fair-skinned persons. People who have this cancer often have light-colored eyes, hair and complexions, and don’t tan easily. These tumors don’t spread quickly. It can take many months or years for one to grow to a diameter of one-half inch. Untreated, the cancer will begin to bleed, crust over, heal and then the cycle repeats. Although this type of cancer rarely metastasizes (spreads to other parts of the body), it can extend below the skin to deeper layers of tissue including the bone and cause considerable local damage.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

This skin cancer may appear as a bump or as a red, scaly patch. Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common skin cancer found in fair-skinned persons. Typically, it is found on the rim of the ear, the face, the lips and mouth. It is rarely found in dark-skinned persons. This cancer can develop into large masses. Unlike basal cell carcinoma, it can metastasize. When found early and treated properly the cure rate by dermatologic surgery for both basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma is approximately 95%.

How can I prevent these cancers from occurring?

Sun avoidance is the best defense against skin cancer. Other less important factors include: repeated medical and industrial x-ray exposure, scarring from diseases or burns, occupational exposure to such compounds as coal and arsenic, and family history. Fair-skinned people who sunburn easily are at particularly high risk for skin cancer.

Prevention means guarding the skin against the known causes of skin cancer. Since the sun’s ultraviolet rays are the main culprit, the most effective preventive method is sun avoidance.

  • See shade between 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. when the ultraviolet rays are the most intense, especially when your shadow is shorter than you are tall.
  • Wear light-colored, tightly-woven, protective clothing, and widebrimmed hats (3-inch brim).
  • Apply sunscreens with a SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of at least 30 with both UVA and UVB coverage. Some good sunscreens include Ombrelle ® SPF 30 and SPF 60, GlyDerm ® Super Sunblock SPF25, and Neutrogena ® UVA/UVB Sunblock SPF30 and 45.

With a SPF 30 sunscreen applied properly, a fair-skin person who sunburns in 20 minutes can tolerate 30 times 20 minutes (600 minutes) without burning. However, the use of sunscreens should not be an excuse to spend extra time in the sun because other sunrays still go through the sunscreen, such as UVA or infrared, which can age the skin and damage the skin’s immune system. In addition, sunscreens need to be reapplied at least every 2-3 hours due to the fact that sweating, clothing, etc can all rub off the sunscreen.

Begin early use of sun protection in childhood because it is estimated that 80 percent of lifetime sun exposure occurs before age 18. Children under 6 months of age should not have prolonged sun exposure, but if this occurs then a sunscreen should be used. A physical blocker (titanium dioxide) with an SPF of 30 should be used.

What is the best cure? Early detection is the best way to ensure a cure. Develop a regular routine to inspect your body. One suggestion is to coordinate monthly breast and testicular exams with a monthly skin exam. In addition, it is important for a spouse or significant other to examine those areas that cannot be examined by the patient. If any growth, mole, sore or skin discoloration appears suddenly or begins to change, see your dermatologist. Your dermatologist may then decide to remove the mole and will send it to be evaluated for cancer.