Fact: melanoma accounts for less than 5% of all skin cancers, but for more than 80% of skin cancer-related deaths.
In fact, when you take these other forms of skin cancer into consideration (basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas), skin cancer is the most common type of cancer worldwide. Unlike melanomas though, which are highly aggressive, basal cell carcinomas (BSCs) and squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) rarely metastasize and cause death (although it is far from unheard of). Importantly, having (had) non-melanoma skin cancer greatly increases your risk of getting other types of cancer, including melanoma, so remember to get those regular check-ups!
In contrast to melanoma, where the relationship between UV exposure and tumour development is somewhat unclear (but most definitely real), the incidence of non-melanoma skin cancers, especially BSCs, directly correlates with sun exposure, so it’s super easy to minimize the risk of getting them! (Remember the good ol’ “slip-slap-slop“, anyone?)
If you are unsure about a mole or skin lesion you should always, always, always consult a doctor (I can’t stress this enough, this is not the kinda thing you want to self-diagnose or just ignore), but to help you get an idea, here are the most common signs and symptoms for BSC and SSC (we’ve already discussed the signs of melanoma here);
Basal cell carcinomas can look quite harmless, often presenting like red irritated patches, open sores that bleeds or oozes, shiny bumps, pink growths with a crusted centre, or even like scar look-alikes.
Squamous cell carcinomas should be a bit easier to detect; they usually present as rough, scaly, crusty patches that may or may not have an open sore in the middle that can bleed for weeks at a time. They can sometimes be confused for common warts, but can be very fast-growing and cause deformation to a person’s face if not removed.
Now, there has been quite a lot of debate lately as to whether surgery to remove non-melanoma skin cancers should be performed in older patients who are more likely to die of other causes before ever dying of the cancer (I guess the best comparison here is prostate cancer, which is sometimes simply treated as a chronic disease in older people who are unlikely to die from the prostate cancer itself). I personally think this should be determined on a case-to-case basis, and that’s all I really have to say about that. If you or a loved one is in that situation however, please do mention your concern to your doctor!
And for those of you who don’t really give a sh*t about non-melanoma skin cancers, I’ll leave you with these pictures of untreated tumours: