Non-melanoma skin cancer refers to a group of cancers that slowly develop in the upper layers of the skin. The term non-melanoma distinguishes these more common kinds of skin cancer from the less common skin cancer known as melanoma, which can be more serious.

There are two main types of non-melanoma skin cancer:

1. Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC): This is the most common type and accounts for about 75% of cases. It usually appears as a small, shiny pink or pearly-white lump with a translucent or waxy appearance. It can also look like a red, scaly patch. There’s sometimes some brown or black pigment within the patch. BCC primarily affects the head or neck.

2. Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC): This accounts for about 20% of cases. It appears as a firm pink lump with a rough or crusted surface. There can be a lot of surface scale and sometimes even a spiky horn sticking up from the surface. SCC can be sore or tender and can bleed very easily.

Both types of non-melanoma skin cancer are mainly caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, which comes from the sun or sunbeds. Therefore protection from the sun can prevent these types of cancer. If left untreated, non-melanoma skin cancer can cause significant disfigurement, although they tend not to spread to other parts of the body.

Non melanoma skin cancer

Causes of Skin cancer (non-melanoma)

Skin cancer is the abnormal growth of skin cells, usually developing on skin exposed to the sun. The two main types of non-melanoma skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Here are several potential causes:

1. UV Radiation: Exposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays is considered the primary cause of non-melanoma skin cancer. Long exposure to these rays without protection can cause mutations in the skin cells leading to cancer. The risk can get higher with sunburns and blistering.

2. Indoor Tanning: Tanning beds, lamps, and booths also produce UV rays and can increase the risk of skin cancer.

3. Radiation exposure: People who have been exposed to radiation either due to past medical treatments (such as radiation therapy) or due to occupational exposure may have an increased risk of skin cancer.

4. Immunosuppressive Drugs: People who have undergone organ transplants and are taking drugs that suppress the immune system may have an increased risk of skin cancer.

5. Exposure to certain chemicals: Exposure to certain substances such as arsenic and certain types of oil and coal products can increase your risk of skin cancer.

6. Chronic Skin Inflammation or Injury: Areas of skin that are chronically inflamed or injured might have an increased risk of developing skin cancer.

7. Fair Skin: People with lighter skin are more susceptible to UV damage, increasing the risk of skin cancer. However, darker skin types can also develop skin cancer.

8. Age: While skin cancer can develop at any age, the risk tends to increase as you get older due to the cumulative effect of UV radiation on the skin.

9. Genetics: People who have a family history of skin cancer are generally at higher risk of developing skin cancer.

10. Previous skin cancer or other skin conditions: If you’ve had non-melanoma skin cancer before, you’re at risk of developing it in the future. Also, having precancerous skin lesions or other types of skin diseases or infections can increase the risk of non-melanoma skin cancer.

Please note this is not an exhaustive list, and the causes can vary from person to person. It’s also important to remember that having one or more risk factors doesn’t mean you will definitely develop skin cancer – they just increase the likelihood. Regular check-ups and taking protective measures can help reduce this risk.

Risk Factors of Skin cancer (non-melanoma)

Skin cancer, specifically non-melanoma skin cancer, has numerous risk factors. These include:

1. Sun Exposure: Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun is the most prevalent risk factor for non-melanoma skin cancer.

2. Tanning Bed Use: UV light from tanning beds is just as harmful as UV light from the sun, and can significantly increase your risk of developing skin cancer.

3. Fair Skin: People with fair skin, especially those with blond or red hair, light-colored eyes, and those who freckle or burn easily, are more prone to developing skin cancer.

4. History of Sunburns: Having one or more severe, blistering sunburns as a child or teenager increases your risk of developing skin cancer as an adult.

5. Over 50 Years Age: The risk increases as people age. The damage to skin from sun exposure builds up over time, so the risk of skin cancer can increase as you age.

6. Living in High Altitudes or Close to the Equator: People living in these areas are exposed to more sunlight.

7. Exposure to Certain Substances: Exposure to certain chemicals such as arsenic and certain types of oil and soot can increase your risk.

8. Radiation Exposure: People who’ve had radiation treatment have a higher risk of developing skin cancer.

9. Immune System Suppression: People with weakened immune systems are more likely to develop skin cancer. This can include people living with HIV/AIDS or those taking immunosuppressive drugs after an organ transplant.

10. Presence of Certain Skin Conditions: Certain rare skin conditions, like Xeroderma Pigmentosum or Basal Cell Nevus Syndrome, greatly increase the risk of developing skin cancer.

11. Genetic Factors/Family History: Having a family history of skin cancer can increase your risk. Certain gene mutations passed through families can contribute to this risk.

12. Previous Skin Cancer: Having had non-melanoma skin cancer in the past increases the likelihood of developing it again.

13. Precancerous Skin Lesions: Certain types of skin lesions such as actinic keratoses could be precursors to skin cancer.

Remember, while these factors can increase your risk, not everyone with these risks will get skin cancer and some people without these risk factors might still develop the disease. Regularly checking your skin for any changes and using appropriate sun protection can significantly reduce your risk.

Signs and Symptoms of Skin cancer (non-melanoma)

Non-melanoma skin cancer usually appears on areas of the skin that are most exposed to the sun, such as the face, ears, hands, shoulders, upper chest, and back. Some generalized signs or symptoms of non-melanoma skin cancer include:

1. Persistent, non-healing sores: Sores that bleed, ooze, or remain open for a few weeks, and then heal up only to break down again, could be a sign of skin cancer.

2. Waxy or pearly bumps: These could be a sign of basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer.

3. Red or pink patches: These patches may be flat or raised and could indicate squamous cell carcinoma.

4. Itchy or painful lesions: Not all skin cancers cause a sensation, but some might itch, hurt, or produce a prickling or tender sensation.

5. Scaly or crusty skin: Often appearing on the hands, arms, or face, these patches could be actinic keratoses, which are precancerous skin changes.

6. Changes to existing moles: Size, shape, or color changes in a mole may be indicative of skin cancer, even non-melanoma types.

7. New growths: Any new growth on your skin or under your nails, particularly those that rapidly increase in size, could be a sign of skin cancer.

While these signs and symptoms don’t necessarily confirm cancer and could be related to other skin conditions, it’s always best to get them checked by a professional if you notice any unusual changes on your skin. Early detection of skin cancer greatly improves the chances of successful treatment.

Diagnosis Skin cancer (non-melanoma)

Skin cancer (non-melanoma) refers to a group of cancers that slowly develop in the upper layers of the skin. The term “non-melanoma” distinguishes these more common forms of skin cancer from the less frequent and more aggressive melanoma skin cancer.

Types of non-melanoma skin cancer include:

1. Basal cell carcinoma: This is the most common type of skin cancer and often appears as a small, shiny pink or pearly-white lump with a translucent or waxy appearance. It can also look like a red, scaly patch. There’s sometimes some brown or black pigment within the patch.

2. Squamous cell carcinoma: This is the second most common type of skin cancer and typically appears as a firm, pink lump with a rough or crusted surface. It can often be a lot larger than basal cell carcinomas.

The two main causes of skin cancer are overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light (from the sun or sunbeds), and having very fair or pale skin which burns easily. Early detection of skin cancer is important as it can be easier to treat if caught early, reducing the risk of the cancer growing and spreading to other parts of the body.

As with any cancer, this diagnosis would require certain tests and possibly a biopsy, which involves taking a small sample of affected skin for examination under a microscope. Treatment for non-melanoma skin cancers depends on the type, size, and location, and can include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, cryotherapy, and photodynamic therapy.

Treatment of Skin cancer (non-melanoma)

Treating non-melanoma skin cancer can depend on various factors including the type, size, location, depth of the cancer, and the patient’s overall health. Here are some common treatments:

1. Surgery: The most common treatment, wherein the tumor is cut out along with a small portion of the surrounding skin. This method has a high success rate and is often used for basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas.

2. Mohs surgery: In this procedure, the cancerous skin is removed layer by layer until all the cancer cells are eliminated. This method is usually applied for larger tumors, those that reoccur, or in areas like the nose or the ears where one wants to conserve as much healthy tissue as possible.

3. Electrodesiccation and curettage (ED&C): This involves scraping the tumor with a curette (a long, thin instrument with a loop at the end), followed by searing the base of the tumor with an electric needle. This process can be repeated a couple of times.

4. Cryotherapy: The cancer cells are frozen using liquid nitrogen, which are then naturally shed by your body.

5. Radiation therapy: This is usually chosen when surgery isn’t an option. High-energy beams of radiation are used to target and kill cancer cells.

6. Topical treatments: Creams or gels are applied directly to the skin to kill cancer cells. They are generally used for precancerous conditions and very early skin cancers.

7. Photodynamic therapy (PDT): The skin is treated with a drug that reacts to light. The light source is then directed at the skin to activate the drug and kill the cancer cells.

8. Systemic chemotherapy, immunotherapy or targeted therapy: These treatments might be used if the skin cancer is very large or has spread to other parts of the body.

Remember, treatment varies depending on the specifics of the case. Complete removal or destruction of non-melanoma skin cancer is often successful if caught early. Hence, early detection and consultation with a dermatologist or oncologist are essential. Make sure you follow your healthcare provider’s advice in terms of screening and treatment.

Medications commonly used for Skin cancer (non-melanoma)

Treatment for non-melanoma skin cancer often involves surgery, radiation therapy, or topical treatments, but certain medications can also be used, particularly for more advanced cases or when surgery is not an optimal option. These may include:

1. Chemotherapy Drugs: These are powerful medications that kill cancer cells. For skin cancer, topical chemotherapy drugs like fluorouracil (5-FU) and imiquimod are often used and directly applied to the skin. They are typically used to treat actinic keratoses and superficial basal cell carcinomas.

2. Immunotherapy: Medications like imiquimod cream (Aldara, Zyclara) function by stimulating your immune system to fight cancer cells. It is used to treat early-stage basal cell carcinomas.

3. Targeted Therapy: These drugs work by targeting specific abnormalities within cancer cells. Vismodegib (Erivedge) and Sonidegib (Odomzo) are two targeted therapy drugs approved for treating advanced basal cell carcinoma.

4. Photosensitizing Drugs: Used in photodynamic therapy, a photosensitizing agent like aminolevulinic acid (ALA) is applied to the skin, which makes the cells more vulnerable to damage when exposed to a certain type of light.

5. Retinoids: Retinoids are vitamin A derivatives which may be used topically or orally to prevent skin cancer in high-risk individuals. Isotretinoin is one such retinoid, often used if other treatments are not effective.

6. PD-1 Inhibitors: Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) is an example of this kind of drug. These are typically used for more advanced skin cancers that can’t be cured with surgery.

Remember, it’s important that individuals speak with their healthcare provider to understand the medication’s possible side effects and decide which treatment is best for them. The choice of treatment can depend on the type and stage of the cancer, the patient’s overall health, the possible side effects of treatment, and the probability of curing the cancer, extending life, or relieving symptoms.

Prevention of Skin cancer (non-melanoma)

1. Avoiding Excessive Sun Exposure: The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage the skin and lead to skin cancer. Limiting your sun exposure, particularly during the peak sun hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), can significantly reduce your skin cancer risk.

2. Use Sunscreen: Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher to all exposed skin. This should be 20-30 minutes before going out in the sun and reapply every two hours, or more often if you’re swimming or sweating.

3. Wear Protective Clothing: Long-sleeved shirts, long pants, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses can provide an extra layer of protection against the sun’s harmful rays. Clothing that’s specifically designed to block UV rays offers the best protection.

4. Avoid Tanning Beds: Tanning beds release the same damaging UV rays as the sun and can increase your risk of skin cancer.

5. Regular Skin Checks: Regular self-examinations to detect changes in the size, color, shape, or texture of moles, freckles, and spots can help identify potential skin cancers early. Schedule regular appointments with a dermatologist who can examine your skin more thoroughly.

6. Healthy Lifestyle: Eating a healthy diet, rich in antioxidants and vitamins can help boost your skin’s ability to fight against skin damage. Also, avoid smoking as it can weaken your skin’s ability to heal.

7. Protect the Skin of Children: Children are more vulnerable to UV damage. Make sure they are well-protected against the sun.

Remember, while these strategies significantly decrease the risk, they cannot eliminate it completely. It’s important to watch for changes in your skin and consult a healthcare provider if you notice anything suspicious.

FAQ’s about Skin cancer (non-melanoma)

1. What is non-melanoma skin cancer?
Non-melanoma skin cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the cells of the skin. It’s named ‘non-melanoma’ to differentiate it from the more aggressive type of skin cancer known as melanoma. The two most common types of non-melanoma skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

2. What causes non-melanoma skin cancer?
Non-melanoma skin cancer is mainly caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, either from the sun or from artificial sources like tanning beds. This causes changes in the DNA of skin cells, which can lead to abnormal growth and cancer.

3. Who is at risk for non-melanoma skin cancer?
People with fair skin, particularly those with blond or red hair, are at a higher risk. Other risk factors include a history of sunburn, high sun exposure, having many moles or freckles, a family history of skin cancer, and immunosuppressive treatments or conditions.

4. How is non-melanoma skin cancer diagnosed?
Typically, it is confirmed with a biopsy. A doctor may first suspect skin cancer if a spot on your skin has certain characteristics, like irregular borders, multiple colors, larger size, or changing appearance.

5. What are the symptoms of non-melanoma skin cancer?
Symptoms can include a new growth or sore that doesn’t heal in a few weeks, a spot or growth that slowly gets bigger, a flat, red spot that is rough or scaly, a small, pink or red, shiny, pearly bump, or a white or yellowish waxy area that may look like a scar.

6. What is the treatment for non-melanoma skin cancer?
There are multiple treatment options, including surgery, radiation therapy, and topical treatments. The choice depends on the size, type, and location of the cancer, as well as the patient’s general health and preferences.

7. Can non-melanoma skin cancer be prevented?
The best way to prevent skin cancer of any kind is to protect yourself from the sun. This includes avoiding midday sun, wearing protective clothing, using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, and avoiding tanning beds.

8. Are non-melanoma skin cancers curable?
Most non-melanoma skin cancers can be cured, especially if they are found and treated early. However, they can still cause significant complications and discomfort, and patients have a higher risk of developing further skin cancers in the future.

Please remember that these FAQs do not substitute professional medical advice. It is always recommended to consult with a healthcare professional for any health concerns.

Useful links

Non-melanoma skin cancer essentially refers to all types of skin cancer that are not melanoma. This typically includes basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). Here are some useful journal articles and resources relating to non-melanoma skin cancer:


Remember, these articles are generally written for medical professionals and require a certain level of understanding of medical terminology and concepts. Internet sources are useful for getting an overview of a subject, but for personalized advice please visit a healthcare professional.

Complications of Skin cancer (non-melanoma)

Skin cancer, specifically non-melanoma skin cancers such as Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC), can lead to several complications if not treated properly.

1. Localized Damage: Both BCC and SCC can cause significant localized damage if they are not detected and managed early. They can invade and destroy surrounding tissues, leading to loss of normal skin functions, and physical disfigurement.

2. Metastasis: Although BCC rarely spreads, SCC has the potential to metastasize or spread. If the cancer cells break off and move through the bloodstream or lymphatic system to other parts of the body, this can result in widespread disease.

3. Recurrence: Both types of non-melanoma skin cancer have a risk of recurrence. It can reappear in the same place as the original tumor or somewhere else on the body.

4. Secondary Cancers: Individuals with non-melanoma skin cancers are at a higher risk of developing other types of skin cancer, including the more dangerous form, melanoma. They also have an increased risk of developing non-skin cancers.

5. Health Effects of Treatment: The treatments used for non-melanoma skin cancer can have significant side effects, including scars from surgery, and burns or rashes from radiation therapy.

6. Emotional and Psychological Effects: As with any long-term health condition, non-melanoma skin cancer and its treatments can have emotional and psychological effects, including anxiety, depression, and body image issues.

Remember, the best way to prevent such complications is early detection and appropriate management. Regular skin checks by a medical professional and protecting the skin from the sun are important preventative measures.

Home remedies of Skin cancer (non-melanoma)

Skin cancer is a serious medical condition that needs direct attention and treatment from medical professionals. While certain lifestyle changes and home remedies may complement the treatment plan prescribed by a doctor, they should not be used as a substitute for medical treatment. If you suspect you have skin cancer, it’s essential to see a doctor immediately.

Here are some home care tips to support skin health in general, but remember they’re not a cure or treatment for skin cancer.

1. Sun Protection: Protecting your skin from the sun is the best way to prevent skin cancer. You can do this by wearing sunscreen every day, covering up with clothes, wearing a wide-brimmed hat, and seeking shade during the middle of the day.

Non-melanoma skin cancer

2. Healthy Lifestyle: Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can promote overall health and boost your immune system. Regular exercise can also contribute to your immune function.

3. Regular Skin Checks: Become familiar with your skin and the location and appearance of any moles, freckles, or spots so you can identify any changes over time. If you notice any changes, see a doctor immediately.

4. Hydration & Moisturization: Keep your skin hydrated from the inside out by drinking plenty of water. Use a good moisturizer to help keep your skin healthy.

5. Avoid Tanning & UV Radiation: Tanning in the sun or in a tanning bed can cause skin damage that increases your risk of skin cancer.

6. Limit Alcohol & Avoid Smoking: Smoking can increase your risk of many types of cancer, including skin cancer. Additionally, excessive alcohol consumption can weaken your immune system, making it harder for your body to fight off diseases like cancer.

7. Certain Vitamins & Antioxidants: Certain nutrients like vitamins C, E, and D, selenium, and beta-carotene have antioxidant properties that could have protective effects on the skin. However, it’s crucial to discuss with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen.

But remember, if you have any signs or symptoms of skin cancer, see a doctor or dermatologist immediately. Some symptoms may include a new growth or sore that doesn’t heal, a spot, mole, or freckle that changes in size, shape, or color, or a mole that looks irregular.

Home remedies and prevention strategies are not a replacement for consultation with a healthcare provider. It is important to undergo regular medical screening and treat diseases under medical supervision.

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Last Update: January 18, 2024