Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. With treatment, most skin cancer is not life-threatening. But what can happen if skin cancer is left untreated? Here's what you need to know.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. In fact, there are almost 4 million cases diagnosed in the U.S. annually. Though it is a slow-growing cancer, that doesn't mean it can go untreated. Basal cell carcinoma is one of the least dangerous types of skin cancer because of its slow growth rate and the very rare chance that it will spread to other organs. This also means there is ample time to invest in effective skin cancer treatment. If left untreated, however, basal cell carcinoma will undoubtedly cause some serious damage. For one, untreated basal cell carcinoma can cause ulcers. In addition, it may result in permanent disfigurement. If it occurs on the face, which it often does, you could be facing reconstructive surgery or permanent facial disfigurement by leaving this type of skin cancer untreated.
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common skin cancer after basal cell carcinoma. Squamous cell carcinoma can be caused by over-exposure to UV radiation and, like basal cell carcinoma, most frequently occurs in sun-damaged areas of the body. It is potentially life-threatening if left untreated, particularly in areas like the face, lips, ears, nose, or neck. This is because as squamous cell carcinoma grows, it has the ability to spread into the lymph nodes and internal organs. Not only that, but squamous cell carcinomas are often painful to the touch. If left untreated, patients may be in significant pain for an extended period of time. In addition, waiting to receive treatment may result in more serious surgery being needed. If a large tumor develops, it's likely that reconstructive surgery will be necessary once the cancerous tissue is excised. On the face and neck, this may mean a patient never looks the same or has the same function in those areas again.
Melanoma is less common than basal and squamous cell carcinoma, but it is far more dangerous. The biggest reason for this is its ability to spread rapidly to other organs if not treated early. Melanoma can put a patient's life at risk in as little as six weeks if left to grow untreated. When melanoma spreads to other areas of the body, it can become much more difficult to treat. A small melanoma tumor, if caught early on, can be treated with procedures like excision surgery or Mohs micrographic surgery. If left untreated, melanoma can quickly spread to internal organs and require treatments like chemotherapy. At an advanced stage, however, even chemotherapy may not be able to successfully treat this type of skin cancer.
Skin cancer treatment saves lives, and truthfully, no skin cancer should be left untreated. Skin cancer screenings are an excellent tool to help detect skin cancer early on so patients can get effective treatment. If you have questions or want to set up a skin cancer screening, contact SE Dermatology Specialists today.