Skin cancer is any type of abnormal cell growth within the skin. The majority of these cancers are classified as the nonmelanoma type, meaning they originate in the epidermal layer of the skin. As a general rule, nonmelanomas are considerably less aggressive and life-threatening than melanomas. Fortunately, this means they can usually be cured if discovered and treated early. The most common cause is excessive sun exposure, but a person can be at a higher risk if they are fair skinned, male, older than 40, or have a family history.
Many nonmelanoma cases are diagnosed as basal cell carcinoma, which rarely spreads to other areas of the body but can cause damage to deep tissues like bone and muscle. Squamous cell carcinoma is less common, and it does sometimes spread elsewhere. Several other forms exist, although doctors see far fewer occurrences of these types. Anyone who has had skin cancer in the past may experience it again, even if their case was completely cured.
Most patients begin to suspect skin cancer when they notice a growth that has changed in shape, color, or size. Depending on the type of nonmelanoma cancer, other common symptoms may include:
When undergoing treatment, the goal is to remove the cancer while preserving the nearby tissue. Depending on the size and location, many nonmelanoma skin cancers can be surgically removed with high success rates. Radiation therapy, cryosurgery, and follow-up exams are often used alongside surgery to minimize the chances of recurrence.