When cancer forms in cells that do not make pigment it is called non-melanoma skin cancer. This cancer may begin in basal cells (small, round cells in the base of the outer layer of skin) or squamous cells (flat cells that form the surface of the skin). Both types of skin cancer usually occur in skin that has been exposed to sunlight, such as the skin on the face, neck, hands, and arms.
Estimated new cases and deaths from skin (non-melanoma) cancer in the United States each year:
- New cases: more than 1,000,000
- Deaths: less than 2,000
Most basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers can be cured if found and treated early.
A change on the skin is the most common sign of skin cancer. This may be a new growth, a sore that doesn't heal, or a change in an old growth. Not all skin cancers look the same. Skin changes to watch for:
- Small, smooth, shiny, pale, or waxy lump
- Firm, red lump
- Sore or lump that bleeds or develops a crust or a scab
- Flat red spot that is rough, dry, or scaly and may become itchy or tender
- Red or brown patch that is rough and scaly
Sometimes skin cancer is painful, but usually it is not.
Sometimes all of the cancer is removed during the biopsy. In such cases, no more treatment is needed. In other cases, surgery is needed to remove the cancer and/or reconstruct the skin.
- Excisional skin surgery is a common treatment to remove skin cancer. After numbing the area, the surgeon removes the growth and the border of skin around it with a scalpel. The surgeon also removes a border of skin around the growth.
- Mohs surgery (also called Mohs micrographic surgery) is often used. Thin layers of the growth are shaved away and immediately examined under a microscope. The surgeon continues to shave away tissue until no cancer cells can be seen under the microscope.
- Electrodesiccation and curettage is a fast and simple procedure often used to remove small basal cell skin cancers. The cancer is removed with a sharp tool shaped like a spoon, called a curette. An electric current is sent into the treated area to control bleeding and kill any cancer cells that may be left.
- Cryosurgery uses extreme cold to treat early stage or very thin skin cancer. Liquid nitrogen is applied directly to the skin growth.
- Laser surgery uses a narrow beam of light to remove or destroy cancer cells. It is most often used for growths that are on the outer layer of skin only.
Grafts are sometimes needed to close an opening in the skin left by surgery. If you have a skin graft, you may have to take special care of the area until it heals.