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Managing Skin Conditions

Differentiating between Non-Melanoma Skin Cancers


Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canada. Every year, over 80,000 Canadians are diagnosed with skin cancer — that’s more than the number of breast, lung, colon and prostate cancers combined.

Skin cancer prevention

While no cancer can be prevented with 100% certainty, the risk factors for skin cancer are well known, so steps can be taken to dramatically reduce your risk of developing this potentially deadly disease. Protecting your skin from harmful UV rays is the most effective way to prevent skin cancer. This means using sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and protective clothing like long sleeves, hats and sunglasses. It’s also important to limit sun exposure during the peak sun hours of 10 am to 4 pm.

Would you recognize skin cancer?

Early detection is also important for protecting yourself from skin cancer. When caught early, skin cancer is usually very treatable. Examine your skin regularly to look for new moles and changes in existing moles. If you detect any moles that are asymmetrical, have irregular borders or uneven colours, or larger diameter than 6mm, report them to your doctor right away.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common cancer in the world. BCC represents about 80% of all cases of non-melanoma skin cancer. It predominantly affects the Caucasian and older population. BCC can develop anywhere, though it is most commonly found in sun-exposed areas. It is possible to have more than one BCC. It is rare but possible for BCC to spread, or metastasize.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common skin cancer. While SCC usually develops in areas that have been exposed to the sun, it can also manifest in burn or wound sites. SCC can spread from the surface to deeper layers of skin, lymph nodes or organs.

Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare type of non-melanoma skin cancer. It can develop in the Merkel cells, which are found in the deepest areas of the epidermis and hair follicles. MCC generally spreads quickly, and develops in areas often exposed to the sun like the head, neck, arms, and legs, but can occur anywhere on the body. 

Skin cancer treatment

There are several treatment options for skin cancer including surgery, radiation and drug therapy. Though rare, skin cancer can become metastatic, meaning that it spreads from the primary site to other parts of the body. Recently there have been great developments in treatment options for metastatic skin cancer. Innovative medicines, such as systemic immunotherapy and targeted therapy, are becoming more widely available in Canada for patients with advanced skin cancer. Patients can discuss all options with their medical team.

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