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What should I be worried about? Non-melanoma Skin Cancer

Most people worry about melanoma, and for good reason. Melanoma is the deadliest kind of skin cancer. It spreads throughout the body and kills.

The Facts

Is Melanoma the only skin cancer you need to worry about? No. While melanoma represents only 1% of all skin cancer cases, it is responsible for the majority of deaths due to skin cancer. In 2017, an estimated 9700 deaths will be caused by melanoma.

Non-melanoma skin cancers are the most common of all types of cancer. Non-melanoma skin cancers include basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). reports that every year there are more new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer than all new cases of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer.

In 2015, more than 3.3 million people were treated for non-melanoma skin cancer in the U.S., accounting for over 5 million new non-melanoma skin cancer cases.  About 2,000 people die of non-melanoma skin cancer each year. Usually they are elderly or have a suppressed immune system.

80% of non-melanoma skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma. You have a 1 in 5 chance of developing skin cancer over your lifetime. But about 50% of people aged 65 and older will develop a non-melanoma skin cancer at least once.

Finally, even if you get your non-melanoma skin cancer treated, you still have a 30-50% chance of getting a subsequent skin cancer over the next 5 years. Worse yet, patients diagnosed with BCC and SCC are at 3x the risk of developing a melanoma!

So why worry?

Because non-melanoma skin cancers are less likely to spread like melanoma, and are generally not deadly, however, there is still that possibility for it to happen. Importantly, non-melanoma skin cancers can be damaging and disfiguring if not diagnosed and treated in a timely fashion.

Who is at risk for non-melanoma skin cancer?

Light-skinned individuals are at higher risk for non-melanoma skin cancers, than Blacks and Hispanics. But Blacks, Asians, Filipinos, Indonesians and native Hawaiians are also at risk.

What can you do?

  • Get an annual skin cancer screening. Early detection and treatment are keys to success.
  • Conduct a monthly skin self-exam. Any suspicious spot that doesn’t go away within two months of finding it means you should see Dr. M. David Cole, MD.
    • When you find something questionable, show your dermatologist.
    • BCC and SCC typically occur on sun-exposed skin on the face, ears, neck, lips, and back of the hands. They can also form in the genital area, and in scars or other skin sores, and can occur anywhere on the body.
    • Wear sun screen. The major risk factor is repeated exposure and unprotected exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) light.
    • Stop smoking. Smoking is a known risk factor for SCC.
    • If you have HPV, it can affect the skin around your finger nails, as well as your genitals, and is related to the occurrence of skin cancer in these areas.

When you catch it early, treatment is fairly simple. Dr. Cole will examine the lesion, remove it and send it to the pathology lab to determine whether it is cancer and the type. If the lesion is on your face, to minimize scarring you want Mohs Surgery. Mohs is microscopic surgery that causes the smallest wound possible and has a 99% cure rate.

If the lesion is not in a cosmetically sensitive area, the lesion can be cut out, or some topical creams can treat it, if caught early.

Successful treatment depends not only on the treatment chosen but also on the skill of the dermatologist. Patients in Newport Beach, Mission Viejo, Buena Park and Torrance, CA, are fortunate to have access to Dr. M. David Cole, MD, a dermatologist who has trained hundreds of physicians and has a comprehensive understanding and expertise in skin cancer. Call Horizon Dermatology and Laser Institute in Newport Beach, CA. (949) 439.9288