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Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer: Symptoms and Treatment Options

When you think of skin cancer, you may imagine moles and mysterious brown spots on your skin. Nonmelanoma skin cancer is typically easier to treat than melanoma, and has less of a chance of spreading. Here’s all you need to know about nonmelanoma skin cancer and the signs to look out for.

Before talking about nonmelanoma skin cancer, let’s first go over what melanoma is. We’ll explain what you need to know to tell the difference between the two, hopefully leading to faster recognition. 

Melanoma is considered to be the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Originating in the cells responsible for producing melanin (pigment) within our skin, the exact causes of melanoma aren’t always clear. Exposing skin to ultraviolet radiation from sunbathing or tanning beds is thought to significantly increase risk. 

Abnormal moles can also lead to melanoma skin cancer. The vast majority of moles and dark pigmented spots are harmless. However, if you notice sudden changes in your moles or a brand new mole appearing, it is recommended to visit a health care provider for further examination.

Nonmelanoma skin cancer is any other skin cancer not caused by traditional melanoma. A variety of skin cancers fall within this category, including squamous cell carcinoma, sebaceous carcinoma, and basal cell carcinoma. 

Nonmelanoma skin cancer symptoms can vary from person to person, but there are a few general signs that may appear most often. 

A typical first symptom of nonmelanoma skin cancer is an unusual patch of skin or lump that suddenly appears without warning. If it doesn’t heal or go away within a couple of weeks, this could be a sign of a nonmelanoma skin cancer. 

Generally, cancerous lumps tend to be firm, and cancerous skin patches appear scaly. If you notice any of these signs on your body, it’s essential to visit a health care provider. 

Mysterious lumps and patches on the skin can occur for a wide variety of reasons, and most aren’t cancerous.

All cases of cancer are different, and nonmelanoma skin cancer treatment plans must be personalized.

If your health care provider has confirmed your diagnosis of nonmelanoma skin cancer, they will develop a treatment plan specific to your situation. Many options are available, including surgery, drug therapies, and radiation therapy. 

Your specific treatment will depend on many factors. Your health care provider will consider the exact type of nonmelanoma skin cancer, its size, location, your personal risk factors, and how certain treatments could affect your physical and mental well-being.

There are multiple nonmelanoma skin cancers, and some are more common than others. 

Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans (DFSP) is a very rare nonmelanoma skin cancer. DFSP often looks like a scar or bruise and typically originates in connective tissues in the middle layers of the skin. This form of cancer mainly occurs on the torso, arms, and legs. 

If the cancerous growth continues, skin lumps can appear. DFSP very rarely spreads to other tissues and tends to remain solely within the skin. DFSP can be diagnosed via thorough skin examinations, and a health care provider may need to take a biopsy for further analysis. Your health care provider may also order MRI scans to see where and how much the cancer has grown. 

Treating this nonmelanoma skin cancer almost always involves surgery to remove the cancerous cells. There may also be the need for further radiation therapy.

Angiosarcoma is another rare nonmelanoma skin cancer that starts in the lymph and blood vessels. While most commonly appearing within the skin of the neck and head, angiosarcoma can arise anywhere. 

Bruise-like lesions are a noticeable sign, especially if they seem to grow larger for no reason. Swelling can also occur.

In rarer cases, angiosarcoma can affect deeper tissues such as organs. If it affects organs such as the heart and liver, this type of nonmelanoma cancer is likely to cause pain. 

Health care providers diagnose angiosarcoma relatively similarly to DFSP. The health care provider will thoroughly examine your skin and take biopsies. Treatment plans typically include surgery, but can also involve a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Merkel cell carcinoma is characterized by bluish or red nodules and is more common in elderly people. This rapidly growing nonmelanoma skin cancer generally appears on the face or neck and can quickly spread to other areas of the body. 

Your health care provider will need to do a physical examination of your skin and take biopsies to diagnose Merkel cell carcinoma. Treatment will depend on the specific stage of the cancer. Treatment plans typically involve a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiation therapy.

Sebaceous carcinoma typically starts in the oil glands on your eyelids. Sebaceous carcinoma is a rare nonmelanoma skin cancer that often begins as a thickened area of skin or painless lump. As growth continues, lesions may begin to bleed or secrete fluid. 

Diagnosing sebaceous carcinoma requires an exam from a health care provider and an ophthalmologist. You may need both skin and eye examinations in addition to a biopsy. 

Health care providers often recommend surgery as the first treatment option to remove cancerous cells. If surgery isn’t an option, your health care provider may suggest a course of radiation therapy.

Squamous cell carcinoma is typically associated with prolonged sun exposure and is one of the most common nonmelanoma skin cancers. It is able to spread to other parts of the body if left untreated. 

The primary symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin include red nodules, scaly sores, or an unexplained raised area of skin. Health care providers typically diagnose this condition via a thorough skin examination and biopsy, and treatment almost always involves minor surgery. 

Squamous cell carcinomas can usually be fully removed in one surgical procedure. In some cases, your health care provider will prescribe topical medication instead.

Basal cell carcinoma is thought to be caused by prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun and is characterized by translucent bumps on the skin. These lumps generally arise on the ears or face and are pearly or pale pink in color. 

Your health care provider will ask you for a full medical history to diagnose this condition, as well as a skin examination and biopsy. Treatment for this nonmelanoma skin cancer is similar to squamous cell carcinoma, and cases can usually be removed with minor surgery. 

Cutaneous B-cell lymphoma is very rare and originates in your white blood cells (B cells).  Lymph nodes may become swollen, and diagnosis may require a full physical exam, blood tests, and a biopsy. 

Treatment for this nonmelanoma skin cancer generally involves initial surgery to remove as many cancerous cells as possible. Follow-up radiation therapy and chemotherapy may also be needed, depending on the stage.

Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) is also very rare and originates similarly to B-cell lymphoma. This nonmelanoma skin cancer affects your T cells and often causes a red rash, scaly patches on the skin, and skin tumors. 

There are several types of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, so diagnosis can require a combination of skin exams, biopsies, and blood tests. Treatment depends on the type and stage of the cancer.  Many treatment plans feature chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and prescribed skin creams.

There may be many factors that can lead to melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancer. There’s no way to guarantee complete protection against developing skin cancer, but you can take some precautions to reduce your risk. 

Avoid ultraviolet radiation as much as possible, including both natural sunlight and tanning beds. Always wear sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF) if you’re going outside and sun-protective clothing if possible. 

Examining your skin on a regular basis can help you identify any unusual changes if they occur. The earlier you notice any changes, the quicker your health care provider can make a diagnosis and provide treatment if needed.

All types of skin cancer should be taken seriously, but nonmelanoma skin cancer is typically less deadly than melanoma. There are multiple kinds of nonmelanoma skin cancer, so it’s crucial to check your skin (especially moles) on a regular basis and talk to a health care provider if you have any concerns. 

Most skin lesions, moles, and dark patches aren’t cancerous, so try not to panic if you notice a sudden change. Talk with a health care provider to get a clear diagnosis and any treatment necessary.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/melanoma/symptoms-causes/syc-20374884

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3339125/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/nonmelanoma-skin-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20355397

https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/cancer/cancer-types-in-adults/skin-cancer-non-melanoma

https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/skin-cancer-non-melanoma/risk-factors-and-prevention

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