Skin Cancer (Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer)

  • Medical Author:
    Norman Levine, MD

    Dr. Norman Levine, MD, is a dermatologist in active practice in Tucson, Arizona. He has authored four books about skin health and dermatology therapy and contributed to hundreds of articles, several book chapters, and even a CD-ROM. Dr. Levine is a reviewer of dermatological cases for Physicians' Review Network.

  • Medical Editor: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

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What kinds of doctors treat skin cancer?

The main type of doctor who will treat skin cancer is a dermatologist. Your primary care physician or internist may first notice a sign of skin cancer, but will refer you to a dermatologist for further testing and treatment. You may also see an oncologist, which is a cancer specialist.

If you have surgical removal of a tumor, depending on how much skin is removed, you may see a plastic or reconstructive surgeon after the tumor removal to help restore the appearance of the skin, especially on the face.

What is the prognosis for skin cancer?

The prognosis for nonmelanoma skin cancer is generally excellent. Both basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are highly curable. There are virtually no deaths from basal cell carcinoma and only rare deaths with squamous cell carcinoma skin cancers, mostly in immunosuppressed individuals. Depending on the method of treatment and the location and type of skin cancer, the likelihood of a recurrence of a previously treated skin cancer is as low as 1% to 2% for Mohs surgery and up to 10% to 15% for destruction by electrodessication and curettage.

Early detection of skin cancers can lead to better outcomes. Know your skin and if you have any moles or spots that are suspect, see a dermatologist for a skin cancer screening. Awareness is key in identifying and treating skin cancers early.

Can skin cancer be prevented?

Many skin cancers can be prevented by avoiding triggers that cause tumors to develop. Prevention strategies include protection from the sun by the use of sunscreens, protective clothing, and avoidance of the sun during the peak hours of 9 AM to 3 PM. Parents should ensure children are protected from the sun. Do not use tanning beds, which are a major cause of excess ultraviolet light exposure and a significant risk factor for skin cancer. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) has noted a dramatic rise in the numbers and cost of skin cancer. Furthermore, there has been an increase in the total number of skin cancers and that new breakthrough treatments for melanoma, although expensive, comprise only a small portion of the total cost of skin cancer treatment. Most skin cancers are treated cost efficiently by dermatologists in an office setting.

Sunscreen use and vitamin D

A major source of vitamin D comes from sunlight exposure, which leads to the production of the vitamin in the skin. Some argue sunscreens block out so much of the sun's rays that inadequate vitamin D synthesis results. In fact, very few people actually apply sunscreen to every inch of their exposed skin, so vitamin D synthesis does occur. There is no reason not to use sunscreens because of a fear of low vitamin D. If there is a concern, vitamin D can be obtained by eating leafy vegetables or taking a vitamin D supplement.

REFERENCES:

American Society of Clinical Oncology. "Skin Cancer (Non-Melanoma): Symptoms and Signs." June 2015.

Skin Cancer Foundation. "Actinic Keratoses (AK)." 2016.

Skin Cancer Foundation. "Basal Cell Carcinoma Treatment Options." 2016.

Skin Cancer Foundation. "Do You Know Your ABCDEs?" 2016.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/3/2016
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