As I, and many other bloggers, have stated, melanoma doesn’t seem to get the same “respect” as other cancers. One reason for this is the relatively easy treatment of skin cancer when it’s caught early. Depending on which source you read, the five-year survival rate of even the beast of all skin cancers, melanoma, is well above 90% when the cancer is detected in its early stages. So if such cancer can be treated so easily, why worry about it…right? But then again, the non- melanoma cancers should not be so easily ignored.
Basal cell carcinoma, or BCC, is the most common cancer of all cancers, affecting about a million Americans each year. More than one out of three new cancers is a skin cancer and the vast majority is BCC. Even more so than melanoma, BCC can be easily treated in its early stage. But the larger the tumor has grown, the more extensive the treatment. Basal cell carcinoma rarely metastasizes or spreads like melanoma, but if left untreated or ignored, it could result in skin destruction and disfiguring. Recently, Governor Jerry Brown of California had a BCC removed from his nose and required plastic surgery afterwards.
The other, more serious skin cancer sibling is squamous cell carcinoma, or SCC. Like BCC, SCC is often found in areas where sun exposure is high, such as the ear, face, bald scalp, neck, hands arms and legs. Those who have had a basal cell carcinoma are more likely to develop a squamous cell carcinoma. The majority of skin cancer found in African Americans is SCC, usually arising from sites of burns or skin injuries. A small percentage (2% to 10%) of SCC can metastasize which can be life-threatening. About 2,500 people die each year from squamous cell carcinoma.
The treatment percentage for BCC and SCC is very high when compared to melanoma, and the resulting ease to remove the tumor in early stages contributes to people’s misunderstanding of the seriousness of all skin cancers, including melanoma. But it’s important to remember that both of these milder “cut-it-out” cancers can result in disfiguring scars from the surgery, or even death. And just like melanoma, it’s important to remember that UV radiation and over exposure to sunlight is the main cause.
It bears repeating…use sunscreen and be smart about sun exposure. Even simple ol’ skin cancer can have devastating consequences.