Nonmelanoma Skin Cancers

Nonmelanoma skin cancers refer to all types of skin cancer that are not melanoma, or cancers that develop in the melanocyte cells. Nonmelanoma skin cancers are the most common type of skin cancers, and are frequently divided into two main subtypes: Basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas. There are other forms of nonmelanoma skin cancers, such as Merkel cell carcinoma, sebaceous carcinoma, and various kinds of sarcomas and cutaneous lymphomas, but they are far less common. Nonmelanoma skin cancer is usually caused by excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation in sunlight, tanning beds, or sunlamps. These cancers affect more men than women and though they can occur at any age, are more likely to be found in people over the age of 50 years.

Signs and symptoms typically start with changes in skin, and may include one or more of the following:

  • Firm, red nodule
  • Flat or raised, scaly patch
  • Flesh or pearl colored bump that will not go away
  • Lesion with small blood vessels around it
  • New sores or raised area on skin
  • Rough, scaly patch
  • Open sore that bleeds
  • Pink or red growth with raised edges
  • Sore that will not heal

The exact underlying cause or causes of nonmelanoma skin cancers are predominantly due to excessive exposure to the UV radiation found in sunlight or in artificial light. Other suggested risk factors include age, fair skin, radiation therapy, a personal or family history of skin cancer, immune suppressing drugs, exposure to strong x-rays, certain chemicals, and radioactive substances. Treatment depends on the type, size, and location of the cancer, and whether the tumor has metastasized to other parts of the body—which is far less common in nonmelanoma skin cancers.

Treatment options for nonmelanoma skin cancers may include one or more of the following:

  • Excision
  • Topical therapy
  • Cryosurgery
  • Electrodesiccation and curettage (ED&C)
  • Mohs surgery