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Nonmelanoma skin cancer

  • Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
 Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer and accounts for more than 90% of all skin cancer. These cancers almost never spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. They can, however, cause damage by growing and invading surrounding tissue.
Light-colored skin, sun exposure, and age are all important factors in the development of basal cell carcinomas. People who have fair skin and are older have higher rates of basal cell carcinoma. About 20% of these skin cancers, however, occur in areas that are not sun-exposed, such as the chest, back, arms, legs, and scalp. The face, however, remains the most common location for basal cell lesions. Weakening of the immune system, whether by disease or medication, can also promote the risk of developing basal cell carcinoma. 

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A basal cell carcinoma usually begins as a small, dome-shaped bump and is often covered by small, superficial blood vessels called telangiectases. The texture of such a spot is often shiny and translucent, sometimes referred to as "pearly." It is often hard to tell a basal cell carcinoma from a benign growth like a flesh-colored mole without performing a biopsy. Some basal cell carcinomas contain melanin pigment, making them look dark rather than shiny.

Basal cell carcinomas grow slowly, taking months or even years to become sizable. Although spread to other parts of the body (metastasis) is very rare, a basal cell carcinoma can damage and disfigure the eye, ear, or nose if it grows nearby.

  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
Squamous cell carcinoma is cancer that begins in the squamous cells, which are thin, flat cells that look like fish scales under the microscope. The word squamous came from the Latin squama, meaning "the scale of a fish or serpent" because of the appearance of the cells.

Squamous cells are found in the tissue that forms the surface of the skin, the lining of the hollow organs of the body, and the passages of the respiratory and digestive tracts. Thus, squamous cell carcinomas can actually arise in any of these tissues.


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Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin occurs roughly one-quarter as often as basal cell carcinoma. Light-colored skin and a history of sun exposure are even more important in predisposing to this kind of cancer than to basal cell carcinoma. Men are affected more often than women. Patterns of dress and hairstyle may play a role. Women, whose hair generally covers their ears, develop squamous cell carcinomas far less often in this location than do men.

Unlike basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas can metastasize, or spread to other parts of the body. These tumors usually begin as firm, skin-colored or red nodules. Squamous cell cancers that start out within solar keratoses or on sun-damaged skin are easier to cure and metastasize less often than those that develop in traumatic or radiation scars. One location particularly prone to metastatic spread is the lower lip. A proper diagnosis in this location is, therefore, especially important.
  • Keratoacanthoma
A rapidly-growing form of squamous cell carcinoma that forms a mound with a central crater is called a keratoacanthoma. While some consider this not a true cancer but instead a condition that takes care of itself, most pathologists consider it to be a form of squamous cell cancer and clinicians treat is accordingly.

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The defining characteristic of KA is that it is dome-shaped, symmetrical, surrounded by a smooth wall of inflamed skin, and capped with keratin scales and debris. It always grows rapidly, reaching a large size within days or weeks, and if untreated will starve itself of nourishment, necrose (die), slough, and heal with scarring.

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