Basal and squamous cell skin cancers are the most common types of skin cancer. Both start in the top layer of your skin (the epidermis). These cancers are usually found in areas exposed to the sun – such as your head, face, neck, and arms – but can occur anywhere on the body.
Approximately 3.3 million Americans are diagnosed with basal or squamous cell skin cancers each year. Both cancers can be aggressive but are very treatable.
Basal cell carcinoma, which forms in the lower part of the epidermis (the basal cell layer), accounts for more than 90 percent of all skin cancers in the United States.
As basal cells move up in the epidermis, they flatten – eventually becoming squamous cells. When squamous cells in the upper (or outer) part of the epidermis grow out of control, they can develop into squamous cell carcinoma.
It’s very rare for basal cell carcinoma to spread, but it must be removed completely or it could return in the same location. Squamous cell carcinoma can also be removed completely, although it’s more likely to grow into deeper layers of your skin and spread to other parts of your body.
Both basal and squamous cell skin cancers can develop as firm, flat areas that show only slight changes from normal skin. However, most basal cell carcinomas appear as:
Squamous cell carcinomas can also appear as:
Again, it’s essential to have a dermatologist check any new or changing skin growths, sores that don’t heal, and other areas that concern you.
Men are more likely than women to get basal or squamous cell skin cancer. Your risk also rises as you age.
Other risk factors include:
Your dermatologist will carefully examine your skin from head to toe, including your scalp and the soles of your feet. Along with the visual exam, we may use a technique called dermoscopy to see the spots on your skin more clearly.
If we find a suspicious area that could be cancerous, our next step is a basal and squamous cell biopsy. This involves taking a sample from the area (or removing the growth entirely) and reviewing it under a microscope to check for the presence of cancer cells.
Skin cancer is America’s most common cancer but is also one of the most preventable cancers. You can do your part by:
Knowing your own skin is key to finding skin cancer early. Learn the patterns of your moles, freckles, and other blemishes so you’ll notice any changes. The warning signs for basal and squamous cell carcinoma include any new growths or changes in size, color, or shape over time.
When detected early, most basal and squamous cell carcinomas can be treated and cured. Be sure to visit your dermatologist promptly – as skin cancer grows, it can become more dangerous and potentially disfiguring, requiring more extensive treatment.
Your options for basal and squamous cell removal include:
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