Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer: BCC / SCC

As our largest organ, the skin is the first line of defence against invading infection and disease. Skin health is a great indicator of overall health, and it’s natural to want to keep up appearances in today’s world. Perceived physical imperfections aren’t generally tolerated anymore, and dermatologists possess a remarkable skill-set to help patients look their best. However, skin can also become damaged or change unexpectedly in lots of ways that require monitoring and treatment. Among skin problems, cancer is most feared even when the lesion is a non-melanoma skin cancer.

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) and Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC), although relatively common, are localised tumours that can be treated effectively. This doesn’t mean that benign cancers are attractive to look at though and most people choose to have them removed. After all, a benign tumour can continually grow, although it rarely spreads to other parts of the body.

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)

The epidermis (outer layer) of skin is itself comprised of several layers. Basal cell carcinoma develops when basal cells in the lower epidermis experience unnatural growth, often manifesting externally as a tumour. Approximately 80 % of all skin cancers arise from basal cells, often due to sun damage earlier in life. Basal cell carcinomas are notably slow growing and very rarely spread to other areas of the body.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

The majority of cells in the epidermis are squamous cells, after which squamous cell carcinoma is named. Around 20 % of skin cancer growths arise from these scale-like cells, again mostly resulting from over-exposure to the sun. Any skin that is sun-damaged has the potential to grow unnaturally and form a tumour. X-ray exposure is also thought to contribute to tumour growth, therefore x-ray technology is used sparingly even in medical environments. Squamous cell carcinoma is also highly unlikely to spread, although observing the progress of any unwanted growth is an important part of treatment.

Together, BCC and SCC are grouped as non-melanoma skin cancers to distinguish them from melanoma. Most non-melanoma skin cancers can be relatively easily treated by surgical removal. In cases where the non-melanoma cancer is superficial, cryosurgery, laser surgery and cauterisation (burning) can be used to remove the growth.

Non-Melanoma skin cancer risk factors

Just because something has the potential to cause cancer, it doesn’t mean it will. Risk factors can indicate a greater chance of skin damage and potential for cancer, but many people with risk factors never suffer from the disease. Regardless, becoming informed about risk factors can help people make appropriate lifestyle and health choices. Apart from sun damage, there are several other risk factors worth considering.

  • Fair skin – It’s well understood by dermatologists that fair skin, freckles, red hair, blonde hair and blue eyes are indicative of people with less sun tolerance and greater potential to suffer from burning, scarring or skin cancer.
  • Artificial tanning – Sun lamps and tanning beds are acknowledged as causing increased risk of skin cancer development.
  • Prevailing skin conditions – People suffer from all types of skin conditions and some of them, such as actinic keratoses and Bowen’s disease can change to become squamous cell cancers.
  • Age – The majority of people who develop BCC or SCC are over fifty years old. Age is no barrier however, and skin cancer can strike anyone at any time.
  • Gender – As lifestyles have changed, so has the potential for skin damage in some cases. The incidence of skin cancer in younger women has increased in recent years, to some degree reflecting fashion choices and a desire to appear tanned.
  • History – Skin that has been previously damaged has a greater chance of becoming cancerous. In addition, people who have already experienced skin cancer are more likely than others of developing another skin cancer.

Other conditions that are conducive to skin cancer growth include inherited syndromes, weakened immune systems and adverse reactions to medications. In every case, preventative measures are the best way to avoid the onset of skin cancer. Simple guidelines should include avoidance of too much sun exposure along with other steps that keep skin protected with sunscreen application and healthy. Pymble Dermatology have the experience and resources required to fight skin cancer at every stage of growth – with life-changing results. In its natural state, your skin can remain a remarkable barrier against disease for many years to come.