One in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70. That’s because skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. It’s also one of the most preventable types.
The best ways to reduce your risk of skin cancer are to use sunscreen, wear skin-covering clothing and hats, stay in the shade and even install tinted smart windows. Yet, some people continue to ignore these seemingly simple rules.
Many people don’t wear sunscreen because they say that they never burn; they need the Vitamin D; it’s cloudy or cold out so they won’t burn; the lotion is messy; or they want a tan. Yet each year, around 4.3 million Americans are diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma—the most common type of skin cancer.
So, exactly what is basal cell carcinoma or BCC?
You can get BCC through extended sun exposure over time or even through occasional but intense exposure. BCC is most commonly found on the face, neck, ears, scalp, shoulders and back.
In some cases, BCC has been caused by exposure to arsenic or radiation; chronically inflamed skin, sores that don’t heal; and complications with scars, vaccines, burns, infections, and even tattoos.
People with fair skin, blond or red hair, and blue, green or grey eyes seem to be at the highest risk for developing BCC. BCC also seems to be affecting younger and younger people as time goes on. It’s no longer uncommon to see people in their twenties and thirties with BCC. That’s because people spend more time outdoors. Whether they’re working long hours, playing sports or just spending their leisure time outside, people are getting more sun exposure.
Some early signs of BCC are having sores that bleed, ooze or crust and won’t heel. You could also have an itchy, painful patch of reddish skin. You could have a shiny bump or nodule that sometimes looks like a mole. You could have a pink growth that sometimes develops tiny blood vessels. Or you could have a scar-like patch of skin that’s yellow, white or waxy. Sometimes, BCC can look like psoriasis or eczema.
BCC can easily be treated if it’s caught in the early stages. It is rare for BCC to spread to organs, but it can leave people disfigured or with nerve and muscle damage.
Once someone has had one BCC, (particularly those on the scalp or nose) another occurrence can be likely, especially within the first two years after treatment. One of the most effective treatments for recurrences, as well as first-time cases, is Mohs surgery.
Mohs surgery, also called Mohs micrographic surgery, was developed in 1938 by Frederic E. Mohs, a general physician. During surgery, thin layers of cancerous skin are removed and examined until healthy skin appears.
Mohs surgery has a 98-99 percent success rate for curing skin cancer. It also allows you to keep as much healthy skin as possible because only the cancerous skin is removed. It works especially well in places such as the eyelid, nose or ear where there is very little tissue.
Mohs surgery can also be done in a dermatologist’s office while you’re awake and alert. The dermatologist will numb you and remove the visible cancer. Then, while you wait, the skin will be examined under a microscope before removing another layer of skin. This continues until the dermatologist sees no more cancer cells. From there, you’ll be left to heal with or without stitches depending on how many layers were removed.
Mohs surgery is commonly used on people with BCC or squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). It can even be used on an early melanoma. However, with an early melanoma, Mohs must be performed in a modified type of surgery called slow Mohs. That’s because the results of the skin removal take longer with a melanoma.