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What does nonmalignant skin cancer look like?

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Photo Werner Stieber-0925 (1)

OA Dr. Michael Tripolt, MPH, Dermatology and Venereology

Studied medicine at the Karl-Franzens-University Graz and Cambridge University (degree in Human Medicine 1999 and Public Health 2005). Residency at the Univ. Clinic Graz (graduated in surgery in 2006, graduated in dermatology in 2012).

Nonmalignant skin cancer is the most common malignant cancer in humans, with the number of diagnoses steadily increasing. The main forms of nonmalignant skin cancer, the Basal cell carcinoma(BCC) and the Squamous cell carcinoma(SCC), account for about 99% of all cases. Unlike melanoma skin cancer, they rarely metastasize.

The skin is the largest organ of the human body. It changes over time and new moles, age spots and other skin lesions appear. This process is completely normal and part of the natural aging process, but not all skin changes are benign and harmless. Through regular self-examination of the skin conspicuous and new skin changes can be detected earlier and enable rapid action.

The basal cell carcinoma

The basal cell carcinoma (basalioma, nonmalignant skin cancer) is being diagnosed with increasing frequency worldwide. The risk of such a disease increases with age. Almost every second person over the age of 70 develops at least preliminary stages or early forms of nonmalignant skin cancer.

The skin is composed of three layers, the top layer being the thin epidermis. The basal cells are a component of this epidermis. If these basal cells are now frequently damaged by too intensive UV radiation, DNA damage occurs which can then lead to uncontrolled growth of the basal cells.

Appearance of basal cell carcinoma

Basaliomas can look very different and can develop anywhere on the body. Very often basal cell carcinomas occur in places that are often exposed to the sun. In the so-called sun terraces of the body ,(forehead, bridge of the nose, eyes, ears, lips, chin, shoulders, back, chest and the back of the feet) the skin reacts particularly sensitively to sunlight and therefore has a higher probability of developing skin cancer.

Basal cell carcinomas can look like

  • open wounds
  • red spots
  • pink growths
  • shiny bumps
  • porcelain-like pimples
  • scars or growths
  • with slightly raised, rolled edges and/or a central indentation.

Sometimes basal cell carcinoma

  • secrete fluid
  • crust
  • itch
  • bleed.

Copyright: all above photos were provided and diagnosed by LKH-Univ. Klinikum Graz.

Please note: Since not all basal cell carcinomas have the same appearance, these photos serve as a general reference for what they may look like. If you see anything new, changeable, or unusual, contact your doctor.

The squamous cell carcinoma

The squamous cell carcinoma also known as prickle cell carcinoma, is after basal cell carcinoma the second most common type of skin cancer. It usually develops on parts of the body that are exposed to the intense rays of the sun.

The early stage of squamous cell carcinoma is actinic keratosis, which is not malignant but can develop into carcinoma if left untreated. In the worst case, squamous cell carcinoma can also metastasize.

Appearance of squamous cell carcinoma

If actinic keratosis is not treated, squamous cell carcinoma will develop over months and years. This skin-colored and nodular skin change can grow into a solid tumor that can expand greatly in both area and depth.

Copyright: all above photos were provided and diagnosed by LKH-Univ. Klinikum Graz.

Please note: Since not all squamous cell carcinomas have the same appearance, these photos serve as a general reference for what they may look like. If you see anything new, changeable, or unusual, contact your doctor.

Appearance actinic keratosis

A typical characteristic of actinic keratosis is a flat, punctate, rough skin change that feels like fine sandpaper. Due to the rough surface, it is initially more palpable than visible. On the surface, the skin lesion may have a sharply defined redness, but it may also be dull, skin-colored or yellow-gray.

Copyright: all above photos were provided and diagnosed by LKH-Univ. Klinikum Graz.

Please note: Since actinic keratosis does not always have the same appearance, these photos serve as a general reference for what it may look like. If you see anything new, changeable, or unusual, contact your doctor.

Regular self-examination of the skin can help to detect basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and actinic keratosis at an early stage. Nonmalignant skin cancer forms metastases only in rare cases. Nevertheless, action should be taken quickly and the skin tumor treated as soon as possible. If the tumor is clearly bounded, it can be surgically removed. If this is not possible, for example because the tumour is too large, another form of therapy is used. Remember, you are in your skin for life!

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