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Skin Cancer, Nonmelanoma (cont.)

What Happens

Nonmelanoma skin cancer usually develops slowly, invading and destroying nearby tissues. It may take months or years for basal cell or squamous cell carcinomas to develop. Because of this slow growth, skin cancer can often be detected and treated early in its development, increasing the chance for a cure.

Basal cell carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma can affect the surface of the skin where it appears. If it is not treated, it can grow larger and cause problems beneath the skin, sometimes damaging the muscles and bones. Basal cell carcinoma very rarely spreads (metastasizes) to other parts of the body.

After you have one basal cell carcinoma, you are more likely to have another one develop in a new place. If basal cell carcinoma comes back at the same place (recurs), it may grow faster and cause more tissue damage.

Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma often starts from a small rough spot in sun-damaged skin (actinic keratosis). Or it may develop from an early form of skin cancer called Bowen's disease. If a squamous cell carcinoma is not treated, it may spread.

What Increases Your Risk

Risk factors (things that increase your risk) for nonmelanoma skin cancer include:

  • Sunlight, sun lamps, and tanning beds. These expose you to ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
    • UV radiation affects people of all skin types, but especially those with light skin color, freckles, blond or red hair, and blue or light-colored eyes.
    • Where you live makes a difference. People who live closer to the equator get more UV radiation. And people who live at higher altitudes, such as in the mountains, get more UV radiation.
  • A family history of skin cancer or a personal history of skin cancer. Or other things that affect your skin, such as:
    • Inherited genetic disorders, such as xeroderma pigmentosum.
    • A history of severe sunburns, especially during childhood.
    • Scars from severe burns or inflammatory skin conditions.
  • Being older than 40.
  • Being male. Men develop skin cancer more often than women.
  • Smoking.
  • Repeated exposure to X-rays, certain chemicals (such as arsenic, coal tar, creosote), and radioactive substances (such as radium).
  • Being infected with a certain type of human papillomavirus (HPV).

Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas can occur in people with dark skin. But these cancers are much more common in people with light skin.

The risk of squamous cell carcinoma is higher in people who have weakened immune systems. This includes people who have had organ transplants and take medicines to prevent rejection of the new organ.

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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