New Research Reveals Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer has Become an Epidemic

The Skin Cancer Foundation Explains the Two Most Common Forms of Skin Cancer

New York, NY (March 19, 2010) - The incidence of nonmelanoma skin cancer has steadily increased over the years and it is now thought to affect more than two million Americans. The two most common forms of cancer, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma affect more people than all other cancers combined according to two new studies published in the March issue of Archives of Dermatology.

According to one study led by Howard Rogers, MD, a dermatologist based in Norwich, CT, more than two million on Medicare were treated for nonmelanoma skin cancer in 2006, up from 1.6 million in 1992. Rogers and his team analyzed data from two Medicare databases and national surveys. They found the total number of procedures to treat skin cancer in the Medicare population increased by nearly 77 percent between 1992 and 2006.

In the second study, Dr. Robert Stern of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School in Boston, developed an incidence-based mathematical model to estimate the prevalence of nonmelanoma skin cancer in the United States. The study found that one in five 70-year-olds has been treated for nonmelanoma skin cancer.

"As the population of former sun worshipers grow older, the more likely we will detect an increasing amount of skin cancers," said Perry Robins, President, The Skin Cancer Foundation. "These two new studies reinforce the need for more education about the importance of sun protection, especially for young people so that they can form life-long safe sun habits."


Basal Cell Carcinoma or BCC is the most common form of skin cancer. It is rarely fatal, but can be highly disfiguring. These cancers arise in the basal cells, which line the deepest layer of the epidermis (top skin layer). Almost all basal cell carcinomas occur on parts of the body excessively exposed to the sun - especially the face, ears, neck, scalp, shoulders, and back. On rare occasions, however, tumors develop on unexposed areas. Anyone with a history of sun exposure can develop basal cell carcinoma. However, people who are at highest risk have fair skin, blond or red hair, and blue, green, or grey eyes.

The signs of basal cell carcinoma include:

  • An open sore that bleeds, oozes, or crusts.
  • A reddish patch or irritated area, frequently occurring on the face, chest, shoulders, arms or legs.
  • A shiny bump or nodule that is pearly or translucent and is often pink, red or white.
  • A pink growth with a slightly elevated rolled border and a crusted indentation in the center.
  • A scar-like area which is white, yellow or waxy, and often has poorly defined borders.

Sqamous cell carcinoma or SCC is the second most common form of skin cancer. More than 250,000 cases are diagnosed each year, resulting in approximately 2,500 deaths. This form of skin cancer arises in the squamous cells that make up most of the skin's upper layers (epidermis). Squamous cell carcinomas may occur on all areas of the body including the mucous membranes and genitals, but are most common in areas frequently exposed to the sun, such as the rim of the ear, lower lip, face, bald scalp, neck, hands, arms and legs.

Chronic exposure to sunlight causes most cases of squamous cell carcinoma. However, frequent use of tanning beds also multiplies the risk of squamous cell carcinoma; people who use tanning beds are 2.5 times more likely to develop this type of skin cancer. Skin injuries are another important source. The cancer can arise in burns, scars, ulcers, long-standing sores and sites previously exposed to X-rays or certain chemicals (such as arsenic and petroleum by-products).

The signs of squamous cell carcinoma include:

  • A persistent, scaly red patch with irregular borders that sometimes crusts or bleeds.
  • An elevated growth with a central depression that occasionally bleeds.
  • A growth of this type may rapidly increase in size.
  • An open sore that bleeds and crusts and persists for weeks.
  • A wart-like growth that crusts and occasionally bleeds.

Treatment for basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma can almost always be performed on an outpatient basis in the physician's office or at a clinic. Pain or discomfort is usually minimal with most techniques, and there is rarely much pain afterwards. For more information on treatment options, visit

While basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas are almost always curable when detected and treated early, it is best to prevent them in the first place. Make these sun safety habits part of your daily health care routine:

  • Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
  • Do not burn.
  • Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.
  • Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day.
  • Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or after swimming or excessive sweating.
  • Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
  • Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
  • See your doctor every year for a professional skin exam.