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Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About non-melanoma skin cancer

Non-melanoma skin cancer is the commonest type of skin cancer (abnormal growth of the cells), which arise from basal or squamous skin cells. Skin is the largest organ of the body, responsible for protective covering of internal organs and also maintaining body temperature. Non-melanoma skin cancer is of two types, namely basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Non-Melanoma skin cancer: Incidence, age & sex

Basal cell carcinoma is more common than squamous cell carcinoma. It is estimated that about 100,000 cases of non-melanoma skin cancers are diagnosed each year. Children and teenagers are commonly affected.

Signs and symptoms of non-melanoma skin cancer: Diagnosis

Non-melanoma skin cancer arising from basal cells (basal cell carcinoma) usually presents as a raised, smooth, pearly bump on the sun exposed skin of neck and shoulders. Crusting and bleeding in the centre of the tumour frequently develops. This form of skin cancer is least deadly and with proper treatment can be completely eliminated. Non-melanoma skin cancer arising from squamous cells (squamous cell carcinoma) commonly presents as a red, thickened patch on sun exposed skin. Ulceration and bleeding may occur. When it is left untreated, it may develop into a large mass. It is more dangerous than basal cell carcinoma.

The cancer can be diagnosed by comprehensive examination of skin and biopsy of the affected part of skin.

Causes and prevention of non-melanoma skin cancer

The causes of non-melanoma skin cancer include smoking, exposure to ultraviolet rays, chronic non-healing wounds (especially burns), genetic predisposition, deficiency of minerals and vitamins, arsenic poisoning and human papilloma virus infection.

Cessation of smoking and overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation (limiting sun exposure during the peak UV time of the day; wearing protective clothing and application of broad spectrum sunscreen during the day) are useful preventive measures. Full body screening (examining all areas of the body skin surface) should be done by magnifying glass under special light to detect abnormal skin masses, lesions and cancerous mass by primary health care providers.

Non-Melanoma skin cancer: Complications

Basal cell carcinomas rarely spread to other body parts and rarely cause death. Squamous cell carcinoma, on the other hand, spreads to other body parts.

Non-Melanoma skin cancer: Treatment

The treatment depends upon the, type and location of cancer and also age of the patient. Surgical excision offers the best chance for cure. Such surgical procedures can be of various types and include Mohs micrographic surgery, simple excision, cryosurgery and laser surgery. In cases where surgery is not possible, radiotherapy may be done wherein high energy X-rays are used to destroy tumour mass. Chemotherapy may also be considered in cases where the cancer has spread to other parts of body.