Unexpected Signs Of Skin Cancer For Basal Cell And Squamous Cell Carninoma

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Medical professionals and organizations like the American Academy of Dermatology frequently educate their patients on the ABCDEs of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer ― and for good reason.

“Melanoma is the ‘deadly skin cancer,’ as this type of skin cancer can metastasize,” said Dr. Elaine Kung, a New York-based board-certified dermatologist. Once melanoma metastasizes, it can spread to other body parts and internal organs, like the lungs or brain.

But other types of skin cancer, like basal and squamous cell carcinoma, may go undetected. And while they’re not as deadly, they’re more common — and it’s important to treat them seriously.

“In reality, melanoma is actually a very, very small fraction of skin cancers,” said Dr. Jeffrey Hsu, an Illinois-based board-certified dermatologist. “The majority of skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma.”

According to the American Cancer Society, basal cell carcinoma accounts for about 8 out of every 10 skin cancer diagnoses and squamous cell carcinoma accounts for about 2 out of every 10 skin cancer diagnoses, whereas melanoma only accounts for 1% of all skin cancer diagnoses.

Skin cancers like basal and squamous cell carcinoma may look like simple skin rashes in their early stages, which leads many patients to miss signs that something is wrong.

Hsu experienced this firsthand with a recent patient, a woman of Asian descent with darker skin who loved the outdoors and would frequently go tanning.

“She started noticing persistent dryness, rashes and a few spots on her chest,” Hsu said.

Although these spots looked like a simple rash, Hsu became concerned when his patient mentioned she had this rash for a couple of years. As these spots were persistent and did not go away despite the many different types of treatment the patient tried, Hsu suspected possible precancerous cells.

“After completing a biopsy, these spots turned out to be squamous cell carcinoma,” Hsu said. His patient was able to receive treatment for her skin cancer before it advanced to later stages.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, if squamous cell carcinoma is left untreated, it can grow deeper into the skin tissue, injuring blood vessels and nerves in the surrounding area. Although rare, squamous cell carcinoma can metastasize and spread to other body parts. While the risk of basal cell carcinoma metastasizing is generally very low, this type of cancer can not only grow deeper into the skin but also into muscle and bone tissues, which can lead to potential disfigurement.

The lack of public awareness about non-melanoma skin cancers and persistent myths that those with darker skin can’t get skin cancer can cause many patients to not be as lucky. Here’s what you need to know.

How do I know if I might have basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma?

“Basal cell carcinomas are often shiny, translucent bumps with ill-defined borders that may bleed easily without trauma. Squamous cell carcinomas are like a tender, rough rhinoceros-like horn growing above a pink scaly patch,” Kung said.

But when these cancers start, they might be mistaken for a persistent pimple, a scaly rash or a scab that just won’t seem to heal.

“Commonly, I’ll have patients describe a spot and say, ‘Oh yeah, I got this pimple. I pick at it, and it just doesn’t go away, and over the years, it’s gotten slightly larger,’” Hsu said.

“Who doesn’t have a pimple here or there? But typically, these things go away within a couple of months,” Hsu said. “If you have a persistent scaly or rough spot that just refused to go away after three months, that’s probably time to receive a professional evaluation.”

Typically, it’s recommended to see a dermatologist if a suspicious spot doesn’t go away on its own after about three months. However, in some particular areas, you may want to visit a dermatologist sooner.

“The skin on the face and scalp tends to heal faster than the skin on the trunk and extremities,” said Dr. Angela Casey, an Ohio-based board-certified dermatologist. Due to the fact the skin on the face heals more quickly, Casey recommended reaching out to your dermatologist if a spot on your scalp or face doesn’t go away after two months.

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The belief that those with darker skin can’t get skin cancer can cause patients not to prioritize visiting their dermatologist for important early skin exams.

The dangerous myth that ‘melanated skin can’t get skin cancer.’

Those with lighter skin types who have gotten a nasty sunburn are all too familiar with just how much damage UV light can inflict on the skin. Damage from UV light is what can potentially cause skin cancer to develop. However, not all UV damage is visible to the naked eye.

“Many people of color mistakenly believe that they can’t get skin cancer because they don’t burn as much,” Hsu said.

“While those with darker skin types do have some ‘built-in’ UV protection rendered by the melanin in their skin, it is not a substitute for the more comprehensive barrier provided by sunscreens and sun-protective clothing and hats,” Casey said.

The belief that those with darker skin can’t get skin cancer can also cause patients not to prioritize visiting their dermatologist for important early skin exams.

“My patients who are of Irish descent are aware that skin cancer ‘runs in the family’ and are more apt to get skin cancer screenings earlier in life,” Kung said.

And it’s in these exams that a dermatologist can diagnose what seemed like an innocuous spot.

“The skin cancers that I have seen in patients with darker skin have generally been more advanced because the symptoms of the skin cancer were brushed off as eczema, inflammation or irritation of the skin,” Casey said. “This highlights the importance of educating the public on the different ways that any skin condition, not just skin cancers, can present in different skin types.”

Want to protect yourself? Grab one of these dermatologist-recommended sunscreens.

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Supergoop! Unseen sunscreen SPF 40

Dr. Azadeh Shirazi, a dermatologist at La Jolla Laser Dermatology, recommended this oil-free Supergoop! suncreen that can help to hydrate the skin. She’s a fan of the clear application, which does not leave a white residue, and its elegant texture. It’s rich in antioxidants and can filter out blue light along with the sun’s harmful rays.


La Roche-Posay Anthelios sunscreen SPF 60

Both dermatologists Dr. Bradley Glodny and Shirazi also recommended this cult classic from French pharmacy-staple brand La Roche-Posay. It has a fluid-like lightweight formula with a matte finish that Shirazi told us is “well-tolerated by my patients with sensitive skin. It also absorbs quickly without leaving a residue.”


SkinCeuticals Daily Brightening UV Defense sunscreen SPF 30

Along with the rest of the SkinCeuticals line, beauty devotees swarm to this popular, luxurious sunscreen. Not only does the chemical formulation protect against sun damage, it actively works to diminish the look of discoloration, helping to brighten and even out skin tone thanks to ingredients like tranexamic acid and niacinamide. Reflective pigments help to give the skin an immediate glow, making it ideal for someone looking to perk up their skin quickly and visibly.


Black Girl Sunscreen SPF 30

Glodny also recommends this selection from Black Girl Sunscreen. Not only does this vegan and cruelty-free chemical formula blend in seamlessly with more melanated skin, but it helps keep skin hydrated, nourished and soothed.


Glossier Invisible Shield daily sunscreen

According to Glossier, Invisible Shield is sunscreen for people who hate wearing sunscreen — and I can’t help but agree. This editors’ pick doesn’t have as luminous of a finish as some other selections, but it’s truly invisible and lightweight, making it ideal for skin care haters. It has a serum-like consistency that doesn’t leave an oily film or white cast and acts as a nice base for makeup. It also has a really nice midrange price point, ideal for those who are reluctant to invest.


Paula’s Choice Youth-Extending daily hydrating fluid SPF 50

Another editors’ pick, this silky smooth sunscreen from Paula’s Choice has a permanent spot in my rotation. It leaves skin looking positively radiant while also working hard to protect from sun damage. I love the slippery consistency, it’s super easy to blend and melts right into the skin. I layer it over multiple skin care products and never have to worry about pilling or other weird effects. Along with sun protection, this sunscreen is also formulated with green tea and oat extracts to soothe sensitive red skin and an antioxidant blend that delivers anti-aging benefits. What more could you want?


Beauty of Joseon probiotic SPF 50+

If you’re a fan of Korean beauty products, then you’re going to want to stock up on this gorgeous sunscreen. It’s wildly popular among the skin care set, with everyone from beauty lovers to influencers touting its skin-enhancing abilities. It’s my go-to daily sunscreen — primarily because it perfectly splits the difference between a fluid and a cream. It has a bit more grip than a fluid finish but doesn’t feel as heavy or oily as a full-on cream or moisturizer. I rarely get more compliments than when I head out wearing this sunscreen and a touch of concealer. As with all Korean beauty products, it’s important to remember to only purchase via reputable sites like Stylevana. It does take about two to three weeks to arrive, so I usually order two at a time to tide me over, but each tube lasts around three months, making it worth the already low price and shipping wait time.


The Inkey List polyglutamic acid dewy sunscreen SPF 30

To get the ultimate dewy look, try The Inkey List’s new-ish (and already highly rated) chemical sunscreen. It has a silky slip that acts as the perfect primer for makeup. It protects skin from the sun and deeply hydrates dry skin thanks to the moisturizing abilities of polyglutamic acid, glycerin and squalane — all of which are dynamite skin care ingredients. Reviewers love it for its slightly tacky finish that grips onto makeup and an invisible finish that won’t leave a white cast.


SuperGoop! Glow Screen sunscreen with hyaluronic acid and niacinamide

Rounding out my personal list of sunscreen essentials is Supergoop! Glow Screen. It’s what I reach for when I want a hint of tint and shimmer. It’s basically your skin, but better — plus sun protection. It’s available in four different shades and has a slightly heavier finish than other chemical sunscreens, in part because of the tint component. But since it essentially replaces foundation for me, I don’t mind that it isn’t as lightweight as others. The pearlescent finish gives skin an immediate glow while hyaluronic acid and niacinamide hydrate, nurture and help to diminish the look of common signs of aging.


Isntree hyaluronic acid natural sun cream SPF 50+

Like the Beauty of Joseon sunscreen, this Isntree formula is a K-beauty gem. It has that classic chemical formula finish that is lightweight and silky smooth but dries down a bit more matte than other options. It’s my partner’s go-to daily sunscreen since she prefers a more natural, less dewy glow. Fans of Korean sun care flock to this sun cream and swear by its soothing, gentle formula.


Clé de Peau Beauté UV protective cream SPF 50+

If you’re looking for a seriously epic splurge, then this high-end sunscreen from beloved luxury beauty brand Clé de Peau Beauté is for you. It’s recommended by Dr. Nava Greenfield, a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group, who finds that it looks great on all skin types. It can help to visibly improve skin’s texture thanks to its nourishing formula made with botanical extracts that directly address photoaging, along with illuminating ingredients that brighten up the skin while helping it protect and heal from environmental aggressors.


Innisfree Daily UV Defense sunscreen SPF 36

With 4.6 out of 5 stars and over 3,500 ratings on Amazon, there’s no denying Innisfree’s star power and popularity. Innisfree is a major Korean beauty brand, and the company actually has its own Amazon shop, so you can rest easy knowing that it’s coming from a reputable source. Like all of Innisfree’s products, the sunscreen is infused with green tea along with cica and sunflower seed oil to hydrate and protect even the most irritable skin. It leaves skin looking fresh, soothed and healthy. The price point makes it a great option for those getting started on a skin care journey, while the blend of high-quality ingredients are sure to please even the fussiest skin care obsessive.


Round Lab Birch Juice moisturizing sun cream SPF 50+

Like other reviewer-beloved Korean sunscreen formulations, this editors’ pick hydrating daily sun cream by Round Lab is lightweight, non-greasy, fast-absorbing and completely white-cast-free. The broad spectrum SPF 50 formula has a refreshing, cooling effect on the skin thanks to birch tree sap and hyaluronic acid that plumps and moisturizes skin all day long, while niacinamide helps fade hyperpigmentation and increase overall brightness. Reviewers note that you can get the real deal on Amazon (where it’s currently on sale), but you can always shop it at Stylevana if you’re feeling wary.

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