How to spot the “other” skin cancers

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- We hear a lot about melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. We hear less about the other skin cancers even though they are far more common. They're called basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. More than two million Americans will find out they have one or more of these cancers this year alone.

David Francis thought it was a pimple on his upper lip. His primary care doctor thought it was something else.

"My doctor thought it was a cold sore, but it didn't act like a cold sore for treatment," said Francis.

It kept coming back. A biopsy showed it was basal cell carcinoma. Francis has come to Premier Derm Surgery in Overland Park to have it removed.

"I'm seeing six, seven, eight, nine a day typically of basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma," said Dr. Elizabeth Spenceri.

It's an epidemic likely related to Americans having more sun exposure and living longer although the cancers are seen in a growing number of young people, too. It's why Dr. Spenceri says we all need to know what to look for. Basal cell carcinomas often appear as dome-shaped growths with visible blood vessels. They tend to bleed easily.

"Shiny or pearly appearance is a pretty typical feature, rolled borders where it may seem a little bit raised around the edge," she said.

They can also be scaly patches especially when they're not on the face.

As for squamous cell carcinomas?

"They can have more of a scabby, crusty almost a boil-like appearance in some patients.," Dr. Spenceri said.

The common skin cancers rarely kill, but they can be damaging and disfiguring if left untreated. The surgery Francis is having is called Mohs.

"Because we take the cancers off a layer at a time, we don't have to remove any more of the healthy tissue than is otherwise necessary," the surgeon said.

That should result in less scarring on Francis's lip.

Dr. Spenceri says to do monthly checks of your skin and if you spot anything unusual, see a dermatologist. To prevent cancer, wear sunscreen, hats and sunglasses. Don't go to tanning beds.