Melanoma accounts for only 4% of all skin cancers diagnosed in the US. By contrast, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma (also referred to as non-melanoma skin cancers) account for the 95% of all skin cancers diagnosed here. Some people may mistakenly call these "good" skin cancers, but there is absolutely no good type skin cancer and failure to recognize and treat these non-melanoma skin cancers can result in disfigurement, disability and even death, experts say.
"Non melanoma skin cancers are less aggressive, but by no means safe," says Michelle Henry, a Mohs surgeon and dermatologist at Sadick Dermatology in New York, NY and Great Neck NY.
Yes, they grow relatively slowly and are less likely to metastasize than melanoma; however, but when left untreated and allowed to grow to a large size, they can also spread. "If left unchecked they can also be fatal," she says. "I often compare them to dental cavities. They are easy to treat when small, but when left to grow and spread they can cause damage, destruction and the loss of vital structures. "
George Martin, MD, a dermatologist in Kihei, HI agrees: "Saying there is a good kind of skin cancer is like saying there is a "good kind of cigarette to smoke"....there is no such thing."
According to Martin, even the least invasive skin cancer, superficial basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma, will need to be treated and may leave a visible scar. "If that happens to be on the middle of your nose or forehead or cheek, that scar will likely show to some degree even if expertly treated," he says. "In some cases even the least aggressive growing skin cancer when left untreated for months or years can grow down into surrounding tissues such as cartilage and bone and when located around the eye, nose, ears and lips, removing it completely can cause some degree of disfigurement." And, he says, "If left untreated, it can cause major tissue damage that can be deforming and disfiguring."
Most lesions are removed via surgery including Mohs micrographic surgery, a technique that removes the cancer from the skin, then maps the cancerous tissue and the margins surrounding it to see if they are cancer-free. Other options include topical therapies, cryosurgery (freezing) and radiation therapy. "There is a new oral agent from Genentech called Erivedge (vismodegib) that targets the "hedgehog" growth pathway for basal cell carcinoma and arrests and regresses it. It is used only for severe locally advanced or metastatic disease."
Prevention is the best medicine. Studies show that daily use of broad spectrum sunscreen can prevent non melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) and melanoma, says New York dermatologist Gary Goldenberg, MD.
Early detection is also important, adds Mona Mofid, MD, a dermatologist in San Diego and the medical director of the American Melanoma Foundation. "This starts by examining your skin head-to-toe every month. And see your dermatologist every year for a professional skin exam."
Ask your doctor what to look for. Unlike melanoma, basal or squamous cell skin cancers may present as an open sore that doesn't heal or heals and then returns. To find a board certified dermatologist, visit http://www.aad.org and http://www.asds.net
-- Additional reporting by Denise Mann
Wendy Lewis is President of Wendy Lewis & Co Ltd Global Aesthetics Consultancy, author of 11 books and Founder/Editor in Chief of http://www.beautyinthebag.com
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