These cancers are known as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, and begin growing in either basal or squamous cells. These cells are found at the base of the epidermis - the outer layer of skin. In most cases non-melanoma skin cancers occur on areas of the body normally exposed to sun, such as the face, neck and arms. In the vast majority of cases, non-melanoma skin cancer does not spread to other areas of the body, and if found early is treatable.
If cancer is suspected then a biopsy will be taken by your doctor and then examined by a pathologist. A sample from a lymph node may also be taken if the biopsy suggests cancer, in order to provide conclusive proof.
Imaging tests can also help determine if the cancer has spread. The following three methods are most common:
• Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
• Computerized tomography (CT)
• Positron emission tomography (PET)
There are a number of commonly used surgical methods for treating non-melnoma skin cancer.
- Excision. This involves the removal (excision) of the skin affected by the cancer, together with a small area of surrounding tissue, thus helping to ensure the cancer does not return.
- Curettage and electrodesiccation. By using an instrument called a curette, a surgeon scrapes the majority of the cancerous tissue away. Any remaining cancer cells are then destroyed by a mild electric current - known as electrodesiccation.
- Cyrosurgery. This is the process of freezing the cancer with liquid nitrogen, thereby destroying it. This method is most effective with early-stage cancers.
- Mohs surgery. This process involves taking away the cancerous skin layer by layer, until no abnormal cells are present.
- Photodynamic therapy (PDT). This process is used to treat superficial skin cancers, and combines photosensitizing drugs and light - which are applied to the affected area of skin. A liquid drug is used to make the abnormal cells sensitive to light, and a little while later a certain type of light is applied to the cancerous area. This light attacks and destroys the abnormal cells.
- Laser therapy. Certain kinds of cancer cells on the top layer of skin which are in the early stages of their development can be destroyed by using an intense laser beam. This vaporizes the cancer cells.
- Creams and ointments. There are a range of topical treatments that can be used to help destroy non melanoma cancer cells. These drugs are prescribed by your doctor and some can only be used under careful supervision. They may cause severe side effects such as skin irritation.
- Radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Advanced cancers may be treated with radiation therapy or chemotherapy. This potentially highly effective technique can have some dramatic side effects.
Written by Kat Kraetzer, an experienced blogger working in the health-care industry for many years
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