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Study Points to Importance of Awareness of Nonmelanoma Skin Cancers

Posted on May 19, 2015 by Kelly Wolford
checking melanoma on back

With the arrival of Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month in May, attention clearly will be focused melanoma, which is considered to be the deadliest of skin cancers.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that, in 2015, there will be:

  • 73,870 new cases of melanoma diagnosed
  • 9,940 deaths from melanoma.

However, the ACS notes, melanoma accounts for only 2 percent of skin cancer cases in the U.S. This is why it is important to be aware of two other common skin cancer types – basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. These are often referred to as nonmelanoma skin cancers (NMSCs).

Because doctors are not required to report NMSCs to cancer registries, it is difficult to know how many cases are diagnosed each year, the ACS points out.

However, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) – without citing its source – states that each year:

  • 700,000 new cases of squamous cell carcinoma are diagnosed
  • 2 million new cases of basal cell carcinoma are diagnosed.

NMSCs grow slowly and can be highly treatable. However, a recently published study found that NMSCs still have the potential to be dangerous, especially if they recur. These skin cancers require early detection and treatment as well as careful follow-up exams in order to keep from spreading.

Study Finds Recurring NMSCs to be Common

The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that the study, conducted by University of Pennsylvania researchers, analyzed 54 patients with these cancer types. Thirty-two of the patients suffered from squamous cell carcinoma, while 22 had basal cell carcinoma. Among those patients:

  • 25 experienced a recurrence of the cancer
  • 12 showed signs of regional metastasis (cancer spread to lymph nodes)
  • 8 suffered paralysis or facial weakness with the recurring cancer.

“When you’re treating skin cancer, your best chance of success is the initial treatment,” the study’s leader, Dr. Stephen Y. Lai, told the Skin Cancer Foundation. “Even for cosmetically sensitive areas on the face, treatment has to be intensive enough to remove all of the cancer … [or] … it may recur as a much more dangerous growth, with survival probabilities decreasing.”

How to Detect Basal Cell and Squamous Cell Carcinomas

In light of this study’s findings, it is important to raise awareness of signs that may indicate you are suffering from basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma so that one may seek proper initial testing and treatment.

According to the ACS, both types of skin cancer tend to be found in areas of the body that receive heavy exposure to sun. The head, face, nose, neck and back of the hands are examples.

The AAD reports that signs of basal cell carcinoma include:

  • Pink, brown or black “dome-shaped skin growth with visible blood vessels”
  • Scaly patch of skin, resembling eczema, which is shiny and pink in color
  • Scar-like growth that is hard and waxy feeling and white or yellow in color
  • Growth that easily bleeds, fails to heal or recurs after appearing to go away.

The signs of squamous cell carcinoma, according to the AAD, include:

  • Rough bump or lump on the skin that is “dome-shaped or crusty”
  • Scaly, flat and red skin patch that slowly grows bigger
  • Sore that fails to heal or recurs.

The AAD notes that squamous cell carcinoma may start to develop as a pre-cancerous growth, or actinic keratosis.

Treatment of NMSCs

A biopsy is the only way to diagnose either NMSC. Upon being diagnosed, treatments include:

  • Excision
    Cutting out the growth or tumor and normal skin surrounding it
  • Mohs surgery
    Cutting out the growth or tumor and examining each layer of skin beneath it until cancer cells are no longer detected
  • Curettage/Electrodesiccation
    Removing the cancerous growth and using electricity to destroy remaining cancer cells.

The ACS reports that destroying cancerous tissue through freezing (cryosurgery), radiation and the use of topical medications may also be used to treat these cancers.

After treatment, it is crucial for patients to continue to examine themselves on a monthly basis.

If there are any signs of the cancer recurring in the same area or arising in a different part of the body, a patient should see a doctor right away for testing.

If you are a skin cancer patient who believes your doctor made a delayed diagnosis of your NMSC – for instance, diagnosing the condition as eczema instead of cancer – you should contact an attorney.

At Powers & Santola, LLP, we can provide a free and confidential review of your case and help you to understand your legal options.