Date Published: 3/1/2013

What can skin cancer do to me?

The answers can run deep.

There are three main types of skin cancer that are important to know about.

The most common is Basal Cell Cancer (BCC) which is not deadly, as these cancer cells remain locally destructive. This form of cancer does not spread to other locations on the skin, but it can grow deeper into the body involving critical structures such as cartilage, bone and muscle. BCC does not have to originate from sun damage, so it is sometimes found on the scalp, and areas that have never seen the sun. Most BCC occurs on the face, neck, chest and extremities that have been exposed to UV light damage, so it is extremely common in those who frequent tanning beds. I see patients who have left BCC lesions unaddressed for many years. This cancer will not act as normal skin, so if it’s located on the eyelid or nose, it will lead to severe local tissue deformity, and destruction if left untreated over time. The disfiguring lesion can be a very ugly cosmetic problem that even surgery and radiation can't improve.

Squamous Cell Cancer (SCC) occurs less frequently than BCC and is the second most common cancer of the skin. Most SCC lesions will not metastasize, but they can. About 5,000 to 7,000 mostly older Americans die of metastatic SCC skin cancer annually. Some unfortunate patients will get very aggressive lesions that progress more often to the lymph nodes, lungs and bones. Metastatic SCC is usually very resistant to all treatments. The treatments are often poorly tolerated leading to a further decline in the patient’s health. Just as with BCC, neglected SCC of the skin can lead to horrible skin defects and non-healing ulcerations than can become amazingly large.

For many with BCC or SCC, the best option is to have treatment with radiation. A skilled radiation oncologist can provide treatments that cure the cancers without the deformities sometimes seen with surgery. Melanoma does not respond to any known treatment except surgical removal of the original lesion, so early detection and surgical removal is the only hope for cure. Early detection of suspicious lesions can save your life. BCC and SCC lesions are not usually pigmented. They present as non-healing areas of red irritation. Abnormal skin scaling and ulcers are seen with SCC which may be raised or flat. Often SCC lesions are reported painful which is less common with BCC. BCC also can form ulcers, and more often has a raised border that is smooth and pearly.


Melanoma is almost always pigmented very dark and has irregular borders. The key to managing all skin cancers is for a doctor to take a small sample for lab testing which is called a biopsy. The key to managing all skin cancers is biopsy. Even the best skin cancer doctors are surprised regularly by the pathology diagnosis being different from their clinical suspicions that lead to biopsy. Ignoring skin cancer lesions may result in a grossly disfiguring outcome and may be deadly. Take measures to protect your skin. Make the healthy choice and see a skin care doctor when you are uncertain if a lesion is cancer!


To schedule a skin cancer check-up with Dr. Epperson, call Inlet Medical Associates at (843) 651-4111.


Transitions News Magazine
March 2013
By William Jackie Epperson, MD, MBA
Inlet Medical Associates