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Detection and Treatment of Non-melanoma Skin Cancer
Prevent Disfigurement and Death

While many people may know that skin cancer can kill them, few individuals realize how disfiguring it can be. Almost one million Americans will be diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer this year. While non-melanoma skin cancers have a better than 95 percent cure rate, many of these individuals may lose their nose, an eye or an ear if this invasive skin cancer is not detected and treated early.

Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the most common types of non-melanoma skin cancer. These skin cancers arise within the top layer of the skin and usually appear on the sun-exposed areas of the body, including the face, forearms, and neck, as a scaly area or bump that persists and bleeds. Sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for non-melanoma skin cancer. Although the primary cause of non-melanoma skin cancer is sun exposure, radiation, viral infections, trauma, genetics, and immunosuppression may also contribute to its development. Occasionally patients who have been x-rayed to treat a malignancy develop a non-melanoma skin cancer at the treatment site 15 to 30 years later. In addition, traumatic wounds, especially old burn scars or old ulcers, may become cancerous after many years. Tars, printer ink, and arsenic have also been linked to non-melanoma skin cancers.

Non-melanoma skin cancers should be biopsied by taking a sample of the lesion and having it examined under a microscope. This procedure establishes the diagnosis and allows the dermatologist to select the treatment with the best chance of cure.

Non-melanoma skin cancers generally only grow locally and send out roots in depth and peripherally. Just like a weed, if all of the roots are not destroyed, the weed will regrow. Selecting the best treatment method for a patient is dependent upon how well the roots are removed.

Non-melanoma cancers can be quite invasive. These tumors can progress so that the loss of a patient's nose, eyelids, or ears may occur. Sometimes the whole central face is affected. Many of these patients' disfigurements can be concealed by wearing a prosthesis for one to two years following removal of the tumor. After that time, a formal reconstructive procedure can be performed.

In addition to the diagnosis and treatment of non-melanoma skin cancer, the coordination of a patient's medical care can be a key to his or her survival. When treating non-melanoma skin cancer, the dermatologist plays a critical role in the patient's care coordination. Depending on the size and the severity of the tumor, many specialists may need to be involved in a patient's treatment.


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Date of Last Update: 07/27/12