The three most common skin cancers are malignant melanoma (see MELANOMA), squamous cell carcinoma, and basal cell carcinoma. Each year, over 3 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer. The most common skin cancer diagnosed is Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC). Fortunately, BCC is rarely life-threatening. However, if left untreated basal cell cancer can be locally destructive, and can lead to extensive tissue damage, nerve damage, and even bone destruction. Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is the second most commonly diagnosed skin cancer. Most cases of SCC are easily cured with treatment; however, the risk of this cancer spreading is far higher than BCC. Although the risk of dying from SCC is very low, more Americans die each year from SCC than from Malignant Melanoma. This is primarily because the number of SCC cases diagnosed each year is so high (it may exceed 1 million cases) that even a low death rate results in a high number.
Basal Cell and Squamous Cell cancer are both the result of long-term, chronic sun exposure. Individuals who work outdoors (farmers, construction workers) or play outdoors (golfers, fisherman, gardeners, runners) are at increased risk for developing these cancers. It is important to follow strict sun protection guidelines to help prevent these cancers from developing. Applying a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunblock (SPF 30 minimum); wearing a hat, sunglasses, and protective clothing; and avoiding exposure to sun during the peak hours of 10:00 am to 2:00 pm are recommended.
BCC and SCC often present as non-healing lesions that scab or bleed easily, or they may present as a rapidly growing skin lesion that may be painful. Any skin lesion that scabs, bleeds, or fails to heal in 3 months should be checked by a physician. Most skin cancers are removed with simple excisional surgery in the office. In some cases, where the cancer may be difficult to remove, Mohs surgery may be recommended.