Skin Cancer: Innovative and Holistic Solutions
BEC5. skin cancer
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. In fact, the incidence of skin cancer cases each year is higher than all other cancer combined, and has risen more than 300 percent since 1992.1
There are now more than 3.5 million non-melanoma skin cancer cases diagnosed every year in the United States, bringing numbers well into epidemic proportions.
Clearly Americans’ well-intentioned efforts to cover up with sunscreen are not doing the trick, and I’ll explain some of the reasons for this below, but first I want to share with you a ground-breaking, completely natural substance that research shows may cure non-melanoma skin cancers.
It’s called Solasodine rhamnosyl glycosides (BEC), which is a fancy name for extracts from plants of the Solanaceae family, such as eggplant, tomato, potato, Bell peppers, and tobacco.
Eggplant and Similar Plant Extracts Used for Treating Cancer Since 1825
There are reports that extracts of plants from the Solanaceae family of vegetables are effective for treating cancer dating back nearly 200 years to 1825, according to natural health pioneer Dr. Jonathan Wright. However, it wasn’t until much later, after the 1950s, that they were formally studied.
The leading researcher in this area today is Dr. Bill E. Cham, who reported as early as 1991 in Cancer Letters that:2
“A cream formulation containing high concentrations (10%) of a standard mixture of solasodine glycosides (BEC) has been shown to be effective in the treatment of malignant and benign human skin tumors.
We now report that a preparation… which contains very low concentrations of BEC (0.005%) is effective in the treatment of keratoses, basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) and squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) of the skin of humans.
In an open study, clinical and histological observations indicated that all lesions (56 keratoses, 39 BCCs and 29 SCCs) treated with [the preparation] had regressed.”
A subsequent study by separate researchers also noted that a 0.005% mixture of solasodine glycosides called BEC5 is a “safe therapy for basal cell carcinoma,3 with a cure rate of 66% at 8 weeks and 78% at 1 year follow-up.”
The findings are exciting, to say the least, because while basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas — the two most common types of skin cancer — are highly curable even by conventional medical standards, there are serious disadvantages with the common treatments.
As Dr. Cham reported, the treatment and management of non-melanoma skin cancers cost more than $1.4 billion per year in the United States, a number that is increasing exponentially each year and quickly becoming unsustainable.4
Further, the common treatments, surgery and radiation therapy, pose the following problems:
- Surgery may not remove all cancerous cells
- Painful with slow healing
- Scarring often occurs, which can be cosmetically unappealing, especially if the cancer is on your face
- Serious health risks of radiation therapy
- High recurrence rates have been reported following conventional treatment
That affordable eggplant extract appears to effectively eliminate cancerous lesions with absolutely no scarring and only minor itching and burning as side effects is impressive.
Two Skin Cancer Case Studies Show Amazing Results with Eggplant-Extract Cream
Dr. Cham’s latest study was published in the International Journal of Clinical Medicine5 this year. The paper includes two impressive case reports of 60-something men who were suffering from large basal cell carcinoma (BCC) or squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), which had plagued them for years.
The results upon treatment with a cream formulation of BEC (eggplant extract) twice a day are astounding:
- In the first case, treatment with the eggplant-extract cream resulted in rapid break down of the tumor. After two weeks, the lesion was reduced to about half its original size, and after 14 weeks the cancer was clinically eliminated with no scar tissue formation. Even the hairs had regrown where the tumor was originally.
- In the second case, after six weeks of treatment with eggplant-extract cream the large skin cancer lesion appeared “cleaner” and some of the cancerous tissue had been replaced with normal tissue. In another three weeks, the lesion was much smaller and more normal tissue was apparent. After a total of 14 weeks, the lesion was completely eliminated with no scar tissue present.
BEC5 Eggplant Extract Kills Only Cancerous Cells, Leaving Healthy Cells Alone
Interestingly, the BEC, and the specific formulation BEC5, which has been used successfully on more than 80,000 patients according to Dr. Cham, appears to impact only cancerous cells leaving normal cells alone. Dr. Cham explains:
“The mode of action of SRGs [glycoalkaloids solasodine rhamnosy glycosides (BEC)] is unlike any current antineoplastic [anti-tumor] agent.
Specific receptors for the SRGs present only on cancer cells but not normal cells are the first step of events that lead to apoptosis in cancer cells only, and this may explain why during treatment the cancer cells were being eliminated and normal cells were replacing the killed cancer cells with no scar tissue being formed.
The two cases presented here are large and anatomically difficult to treat lesions. There is little doubt that the cosmetic end result of this type of treatment is at least, or more likely, superior to other available treatments. At the completion of treatment, it could not be distinguished where the tumors once were!”
Unfortunately, simply eating eggplant, tomatoes, peppers or similar veggies, while beneficial for many reasons, will not induce this same effect because the active components are not able to effectively penetrate your cells. This requires the addition of glycosides, molecules with various simple sugars attached to them that can latch on to receptors found on skin cancer cells.
Dr. Wright explains:
“BEC5 is a name for a mixture of 1/3 solasonine and 1/3 solamargine in the ‘triglycoside’ form, and 1/3 ‘diglycosides and monoglycoside’ of these two basic molecules. Solasonine and solamargine themselves are actually very similar (but not identical to) human cholesterol and steroid molecules.
By themselves, solasonine and solamargine don’t have anticancer activity because they can’t penetrate into cells, cancerous or normal. That’s why just eating the foods that contain these compounds won’t eliminate your skin cancer or even reduce your risk of getting it.
In order for them to be effective, they need to be able to get into the cells. That’s where the glycosides come in. Glycoside is a term used to describe molecules with various simple sugars attached to them.
One of these simple sugars, called rhamnose, selectively latches on to receptors present only in skin cancer cell membranes and in actinic keratosis.
When you combine the solasonine and solamargine with rhamnose, they can get into the cells where they cause cancer cell death by destroying cell components called lysosomes. Normal cells escape any harm, since the BEC5 can’t get into them.”
One Reader’s Great Experience With Homemade Version
I’ve had a skin cancer on my nose (bottom on the side. It was biopsied and removed probably 6 years ago, but over the last couple of years it came back as basal cell carcinoma. Over the few months ago it started to look ugly – turned into a little black spec.
I went to a plastic surgeon when I got home from AAFCO – hoping to convince him to just cut it off. But, he wouldn’t. What he proposed was going to cost $6,000 and I don’t have health insurance. So…I went home and started doing research on what I could do. I found a post from Dr. Mercola on eggplant extract. It’s success with skin cancers.
Couldn’t find eggplant extract – but found a home recipe that is just eggplant and apple cider vinegar. Got organic of both and made my own. I soaked a gauze pad in the extract and would bandaid it on my nose for a couple of hours a day. It would scab over (but only on the one spot – no where else) and that part would fall off, then it would scab again.
Now…it’s gone. I’ve kept up on the treatment for another 10 days after the last spot fell off – and nothing is there now. Really quite amazing.
Lack of Sunlight Increases Your Risk of Melanoma Skin Cancer
What’s even better than an inexpensive, safe, and natural cure for skin cancer is, of course, preventing it in the first place. Avoiding the sun and slathering on sunscreen is NOT the best way to prevent skin cancer! In fact, doing this will actually increase your risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, because it will decimate your vitamin D levels.
Your organs convert the vitamin D in your bloodstream into calcitriol, which is the hormonal or activated version of vitamin D. Your organs then use it to repair damage, including damage from cancer cells and tumors. Exposure to sunlight is the optimal way to maintain therapeutic blood levels of vitamin D, so if you’ve been shunning the sun or applying sunscreen, which blocks your body’s ability to produce vitamin D, you’re likely deficient and missing out on these anti-cancer benefits.
Vitamin D’s protective effect against cancer works in multiple ways, including:
- Increasing the self-destruction of mutated cells (which, if allowed to replicate, could lead to cancer)
- Reducing the spread and reproduction of cancer cells
- Causing cells to become differentiated (cancer cells often lack differentiation)
- Reducing the growth of new blood vessels from pre-existing ones, which is a step in the transition of dormant tumors turning cancerous
A study by Dr. William Grant, Ph.D., internationally recognized research scientist and vitamin D expert, found that about 30 percent of cancer deaths — which amounts to 2 million worldwide and 200,000 in the United States — could be prevented each year with higher levels of vitamin D!
Several studies have also confirmed that appropriate sun exposure actually helps prevent skin cancer. In fact, melanoma occurrence has been found to decrease with greater sun exposure, and can be increased by sunscreens. One such study revealed that melanoma patients who had higher levels of sun exposure were less likely to die than other melanoma patients, and patients who already had melanoma and got a lot of sun exposure were prone to a less aggressive tumor type.
Another Italian study, published in the European Journal of Cancer,6 also confirmed and supported earlier studies showing improved survival rates in melanoma patients who were exposed to sunlight more frequently in the time before their melanoma was diagnosed.
Melanoma is actually more common in indoor workers than in outdoor workers, and is more common on regions of your body that are not exposed to the sun at all. UVB radiation has been found to delay the appearance of melanoma if you are genetically predisposed or prone to skin cancer.
Why Most Sunscreens Will Not Protect You Against Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer
Aside from their impact on your vitamin D levels, most sunscreens are worse than useless because they provide inadequate UVA protection. There are two primary types of UV rays from sunlight that you need to be concerned with; the vitamin-D-producing UVB rays and the skin-damaging UVA light.
Both UVA and UVB can cause tanning and burning, although UVB does so far more rapidly. UVA, however, penetrates your skin more deeply than UVB, and may be a much more important factor in photoaging, wrinkles, and non-melanoma skin cancers.
However, if you think your sunscreen is protecting you from UVA, you’re likely being deceived, as a 2011 Environmental Working Group analysis7 found that more than 60 percent of sunscreen products reviewed provide inadequate UVA protection, and are actually so ineffective that they would not be approved in the European market.
Since UVAs are inherently more damaging AND persistently high during all daylight hours, wearing a sunscreen that doesn’t protect you from UVA is going to give you virtually no benefit and be detrimental to your overall health. So it’s important to understand that if you’re using sunscreen, you need to be certain you are actually getting UVA protection.
Europe is taking a far more stringent stance to ensure that consumers are protected against the damaging UVA light when they use sunscreens, but in the United States sunscreen standards fall short.
As EWG reported:8
” … Europe’s proposed standards for UVA protection are far more stringent than FDA’s. The agency has spent years finalizing a rule that would merely require disclosure of UVA protection levels, while Europe has proposed that sunscreens provide UVA protection at a level at least one-third as strong as the sunburn protection level (SPF).
This means the minimum UVA protection in Europe would be roughly equivalent to FDA’s proposed three-star protection level. Requiring balanced protection across the UVB and UVA spectrum has the secondary effect of limiting sky-high SPF values, ensuring that sunburn protection isn’t out of step with protection from other health problems, such as free radical damage and skin cancer. Very few sunscreens on the U.S. market would meet the baseline UVA protection standards proposed in Europe.”
Using the Sun for Skin Cancer Prevention
The key to effectively using the sun for skin cancer protection is to find a healthy balance between getting enough natural sunlight to maximize your vitamin D production and maintain your optimal health, while at the same time protecting yourself from damage that occurs from overexposure to the sun.
A good rule of thumb to follow is once your skin turns the lightest shade of pink (if you’re Caucasian), it’s time to get out of the sun. Past this point of exposure your body will not produce any more vitamin D and you’ll begin to have sun damage — and sunburn anywhere on your body is not good for your health.
You should seek to use natural sunlight as your primary source of vitamin D, but during the winter a safe tanning bed (one that uses electronic, not magnetic, ballasts and has lower levels of UVA than even the sun does, as most non-safe beds have higher UVA levels than the sun) is the next best alternative.
If neither of these options are available to you then you can use an oral vitamin D3 supplement, but keep in mind you may miss out on all of the benefits, and researchers have found that daily intakes of vitamin D by adults in the range of 8,000 IU are needed so your blood levels are in the therapeutic range. You can find out more about how to use vitamin D therapeutically to protect your health here.
Your Diet Can Also Help Protect You from Skin Cancer
Consuming a healthy diet full of natural antioxidants is a useful strategy to ensure your body is primed to have the best defense against overexposure to the sun’s harmful UVA rays at all times.
Fresh, raw, unprocessed foods deliver the nutrients that your body needs to maintain a healthy balance of omega-6 and omega-3 oils in your skin, which is your first line of defense against sunburn. Fresh, raw vegetables also provide your body with an abundance of powerful antioxidants that will help you fight the free radicals caused by sun damage that can lead to burns and cancer. As Wright also recommends, some of the most important foods and nutrients to focus on for skin-cancer prevention include:
|Nutrient||Found in these foods …|
|Beta-carotene||Sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, collard greens, and most yellow/orange veggies|
|Lycopene||Tomatoes (including in cooked form in sauces, etc.), watermelon, papaya, pink guava|
|Lutein||Spinach, kale, peas, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, pistachios, broccoli, egg yolks|
|Epigallocatechin gallate (ECGC) and polyphenols||Green and black tea, rosemary, thyme, oregano, garlic, cocoa9|
|Flavonoids||Citrus, especially citrus peel|
|Proanthocyanadins||Cocoa, grape seeds|
|Cruciferous veggies||Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale|
The recently appreciated highly beneficial carotenoid called astaxanthin has also piqued the interest of researchers due to its ability to reduce signs of aging by helping protect your skin from sun damage. Astaxanthin is extracted from marine algae in response to exposure to UV light. This is the way the algae protects itself from UVB damage, so it makes perfect sense that this deeply pigmented substance would have the capacity to “shield” you when it is taken in appropriate quantities for a sufficient time (usually several weeks) to saturate your body’s tissues.
Cyanotech Corporation funded a study10 through an independent consumer research laboratory to measure the skin’s resistance to both UVA and UVB light before and after astaxanthin supplementation. The result was that in only three weeks of taking 4 mg per day subjects showed a significant increase in the amount of time necessary for UV radiation to redden their skin. “You can find more information on how to use astaxanthin to help protect your skin from sun damage by reading this article.
Your body is made to be in the sun, and, when done properly, sun exposure will be one of the best ways you can help reduce your risk of skin, and many other forms of, cancer. In the event you do develop non-melanoma skin cancer, talk to your holistic health care practitioner about all the treatment options available, including the potentially least expensive and least invasive ones, like eggplant extract.
– Sources and References
- 1 JAMA Dermatology Mar 2010, 146(3):283-7
- 2 Cancer Letters Sep 1991, 59(3):183-92
- 3 International Journal of Dermatology Jan 2008, 47(1):78-8
- 4 The Lancet, “Delivering Affordable Cancer Care in High-Income Countries”
- 5 International Journal of Community Medicine Sep 2011, 2(4):473-7
- 6 European Journal of Cancer Jun 2008, 44(9):1275-81
- 7 Environmental Working Group
- 8 Environmental Working Group, “Europe’s Better Sunscreens”
- 9 Journal of Nutrition Jun 2006, 136(6):1565-9
- 10 Cyanotech (PDF)
- 1 Skin Cancer: Innovative and Holistic Solutions
- 2 Conventional Skin Cancer Treatment
- 3 Lifestyle Changes to Help Skin Cancer Symptoms
- 4 Supplements to Help Skin Cancer Symptoms
- 5 Precautions
- 6 Skin Cancer Key Points
- 7 Basal cell carcinoma
- 8 Squamous cell carcinoma
- 9 Melanoma
- 10 Less common types of skin cancer
- 11 Actinic keratosis (solar keratosis)
- 12 Squamous cell carcinoma in situ (Bowen disease)
Skin Cancer: Innovative and Holistic Solutions
Conventional Skin Cancer Treatment
- Cancer stage
- Type of cancer
- Size of the tumor and body part affected
- How aggressive the cancer is (how fast the cancer cells are dividing and spreading)
- Patient’s age and overall health
Standard conventional skin cancer treatments may include:
Surgery: Various forms of surgery may be used depending on the type, stage and location of the cancer.
Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy relies on radiation to destroy or shrink the cancer tumor. It can cause side effects such as skin irritation, salivary gland damage, vomiting and hair loss, among others, depending on the location of the treatment.
Chemotherapy: Also known as “chemo,” chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells and ease symptoms. However, it’s also highly toxic and can cause difficult side effects such as nausea, vomiting, hair loss and cause damage to healthy cells as well as cancer cells.
Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy is basically a form of chemotherapy, but it’s able to “target” specific aspects of cancer cells. Sometimes targeted therapies are used alone but they are also given with other forms of chemotherapy. Like other forms of chemotherapy, they can also cause side effects, including changes to the hair and skin.
Photodynamic therapy: Used for treating skin cancers and cancers on the lining of internal organs or cavities, this therapy combines a photosensitizing chemical with a special type of activating light to kill cancer cells. Photodynamic therapy causes the eyes and skin to become sensitive to light for about six weeks after treatment and it can cause other temporary side effects, including coughing, abdominal pain, and trouble swallowing, among others.
Immunotherapy: As the name implies, this therapy uses the patient’s own immune system to fight their cancer. Some types of immunotherapy are called biologic therapy. It works better on certain types of cancers than others. Immunotherapy may be used to treat melanoma.
If other therapies aren’t working, or for some reason aren’t a viable option, sometimes patients may participate in clinical trials for new treatments. These are treatments that are still in the research phase and are not yet available on a widespread basis, but may have some efficacy in treating difficult cancers and may lead to new standard treatments.
Further details about skin cancer staging and conventional treatment can be found online on the National Cancer Institute’s website.
Natural Skin Cancer Therapies
Given how harsh the side effects of conventional treatment can be on the body, I recommend trying natural skin cancer treatments. Either used along with standard therapies or on their own, these natural therapies can aid the body in the therapeutic process and provide much-needed relief from the difficulties of the disease. Below are some additional remedies that may offer therapeutic benefits and relief for skin cancer symptoms.
Eggplant extract — A study published by U.K. researchers in the International Journal of Dermatology demonstrated that a cream with a 0.005 percent concentration of solasodine glycosides, a compound derived from eggplant, is a safe and effective therapy for keratosis and early stage basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas. The cream is not currently available in the U.S. (14)
Frankincense and myrrh oils — Since recorded history myrrh has been used to treat a wide range of diseases. At one point in history, myrrh was so precious that its value was determined by its weight in gold!
There is limited research on the use of myrrh, but a 2013 study found that the use of frankincense and myrrh oils on basal cell cancer lines (A549 cell lines), seems to help encourage apoptosis, or cell death, of these skin cancer cells. While promising, the researchers noted that further studies are needed. (15)
Myrrh oil is best applied mixed with a carrier oil such as coconut, jojoba, almond or grapeseed oil. Frankincense oil can be applied directly to the skin as an essential oil or as a salve to help relieve skin cancer symptoms.
Lifestyle Changes to Help Skin Cancer Symptoms
Remove Toxins & Find Healthier Alternatives
- Filter your water. Tap water often contains chemicals such as chlorine, fluoride and arsenic, among others, which are toxic to your health.
- Remove dangerous chemicals and toxic products from your homes. Identify any products in your home that contain the Top 10 Chemicals Threatening Your Health Right Now and replace them with safer alternatives.
- As a safer and healthier alternative to toxic chemical-based products, use natural or organic cleaning products and beauty products (especially avoid sodium laurel sulfate, propylene glycol, etc.). Or, better yet, try making your own (which is usually the safest way to ensure the least amount of contaminants).
- Get outside! Time spent outdoors breathing in fresh air and getting some mild-to-moderate exercise can boost your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing by easing anxiety and helping to clear toxins from your body. Be sure to take any necessary precautions because of your illness, such as wearing sunglasses or protective clothing.
Try a Cleanse
Just as you detox your home and environment, you can also detox your body with a liver cleanse to help your body remove any existing irritants and balance your digestive tract while helping to ease skin cancer symptoms. With any cleanse or diet change, it is important to listen to your body. Cleansing can have side effects, such as flu-like symptoms. This is the result of stored toxins being released and is normal. However, should you experience any headaches, nausea or flu-like symptoms, always consult your doctor or reduce any cleansing agent you may be taking. If you are going through any conventional cancer treatments that may be hard on the body, take extra precautions before and during a cleanse and speak with your health care provider about any concerns you may have.
Eat Foods That Help Fight Cancer
- Green, leafy vegetables rich in key vitamins and minerals and fiber, such as spinach and kale.
- Clean, healthy proteins like grass-fed meat, eggs, wild-caught fish, nuts and seeds
- Sources of healthy fats rich such as avocados, cold-pressed olive oil, coconut oil, ghee or clarified butter
- Antioxidant-rich foods, including berries (blackberries, blueberries, goji berries, etc.), pecans, walnuts, artichoke hearts, cloves, acai berries, cocoa (in moderation) and garlic.
To get started, try following my healing foods diet, which includes a shopping list that you can print out. Eat organic, whole foods and avoid non-GMO foods as much as possible. Avoid any known food allergens and speak with your health care provider or a nutritionist if you have any questions about how best to implement a new diet.
Foods to Avoid
Since cancer thrives in an acidic and toxic environment, it is important to remove any foods that increase inflammation in the body. Remove processed foods, refined cooking oils, sugars (corn syrup & artificial sweeteners), fast food and avoid consuming foods with a high omega-6ratio.
Avoid foods such as corn-fed beef, corn and soy products, gluten, trans fats, fried foods, deli meats or foods that have any added preservatives or nitrates.
Supplements to Help Skin Cancer Symptoms
Pancreatic Enzymes — These enzymes are important in controlling inflammation, optimizing blood flow, boosting the immune system and helping to prevent cancer.
Probiotics — Nourishing your body with probiotics helps boost healthy gut bacteria. Benefits of a high-quality probiotic supplement and foods include a stronger and healthier immune system and improved digestion, among others.
Turmeric — Turmeric, particularly its active compound curcumin, has many health benefits. These include boosting immune health and potentially helping to treat cancer.
Check with your health care provider before making major dietary and exercise changes, especially if you are currently undergoing conventional cancer treatment, have other health conditions or if you are pregnant or nursing.
Skin Cancer Key Points
- Skin cancer can be categorized into three main types: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma
- Be sure to learn the ABCDEs of examining moles or suspicious growths so that you know the skin cancer symptoms to look for. Reach out to your health care provider if you see any unusual colors or changes in color, size or shape of moles.
- Skin cancer is diagnosed through a combination of examination and biopsy.
- Treatment will depend on the type, location and stage of the cancer.
- Natural therapies and lifestyle changes can help relieve skin cancer symptoms.
6 Natural Skin Cancer Therapies & Lifestyle Changes
- Apply an eggplant extract cream or solution.
- Apply frankincense and myrrh oils.
- Remove toxins from your home and body products and find healthier alternatives.
- Try a cleanse.
- Eat a healing diet and avoid unhealthy foods.
- Try supplementing with vitamin D, pancreatic enzymes, probiotics and turmeric.
What Are Basal and Squamous Cell Skin Cancers?
Cancer starts when cells in the body begin to grow out of control. Cells in nearly any part of the body can become cancer cells. To learn more about how cancers start and spread, see What Is Cancer?
Skin cancer begins when cells in the skin start to grow uncontrollably.
Types of skin cells
There are 3 main types of cells in the top layer of the skin (called the epidermis):
- Squamous cells: These are flat cells in the outer part of the epidermis that are constantly shed as new ones form.
- Basal cells: These cells are in the lower part of the epidermis, called the basal cell layer. These cells constantly divide to form new cells to replace the squamous cells that wear off the skin’s surface. As these cells move up in the epidermis, they get flatter, eventually becoming squamous cells.
- Melanocytes: These cells make the brown pigment called melanin, which gives the skin its tan or brown color. Melanin acts as the body’s natural sunscreen, protecting the deeper layers of the skin from some of the harmful effects of the sun. For most people, when skin is exposed to the sun, melanocytes make more of the pigment, causing the skin to tan or darken.
The epidermis is separated from the deeper layers of skin by the basement membrane. When a skin cancer becomes more advanced, it generally grows through this barrier and into the deeper layers.
Types of skin cancer
Basal cell carcinoma
This the most common type of skin cancer. About 8 out of 10 skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas (also called basal cell cancers). When seen under a microscope, the cells in these cancers look like cells in the lowest layer of the epidermis, called the basal cell layer.
These cancers usually develop on sun-exposed areas, especially the head and neck. These cancers tend to grow slowly. It’s very rare for a basal cell cancer to spread to other parts of the body. But if a basal cell cancer is left untreated, it can grow into nearby areas and invade the bone or other tissues beneath the skin.
If not removed completely, basal cell carcinoma can recur (come back) in the same place on the skin. People who have had basal cell skin cancers are also more likely to get new ones in other places.
Squamous cell carcinoma
About 2 out of 10 skin cancers are squamous cell carcinomas (also called squamous cell cancers). The cells in these cancers look like abnormal versions of the squamous cells seen in the outer layers of the skin.
These cancers commonly appear on sun-exposed areas of the body such as the face, ears, neck, lips, and backs of the hands. They can also develop in scars or chronic skin sores elsewhere. They sometimes start in actinic keratoses (described below). Less often, they form in the skin of the genital area.
Squamous cell cancers are more likely to grow into deeper layers of skin and spread to other parts of the body than basal cell cancers, although this is still uncommon.
Keratoacanthomas are dome-shaped tumors that are found on sun-exposed skin. They may start out growing quickly, but their growth usually slows down. Many keratoacanthomas shrink or even go away on their own over time without any treatment. But some continue to grow, and a few may even spread to other parts of the body. Their growth is often hard to predict, so many skin cancer experts consider them a type of squamous cell skin cancer and treat them as such.
These cancers develop from melanocytes, the pigment-making cells of the skin. Melanocytes can also form benign (non-cancerous) growths called moles. Melanomas are much less common than basal and squamous cell cancers, but they are more likely to grow and spread if left untreated. Melanoma and moles are discussed in Melanoma Skin Cancer.
Less common types of skin cancer
Other types of skin cancer are much less common and are treated differently. These include:
- Merkel cell carcinoma
- Kaposi sarcoma
- Cutaneous (skin) lymphoma
- Skin adnexal tumors (tumors that start in hair follicles or skin glands)
- Various types of sarcomas
Together, these types account for less than 1% of all skin cancers.
Pre-cancerous and pre-invasive skin conditions
These conditions may develop into skin cancer or may be very early stages of skin cancer.
Actinic keratosis (solar keratosis)
Actinic keratosis (AK), also known as solar keratosis, is a pre-cancerous skin condition caused by too much exposure to the sun. AKs are usually small (less than 1/4 inch across), rough or scaly spots that may be pink-red or flesh-colored. Usually they start on the face, ears, backs of the hands, and arms of middle-aged or older people with fair skin, although they can occur on other sun-exposed areas. People who have them usually develop more than one.
AKs tend to grow slowly and usually do not cause any symptoms (although some might be itchy or sore). They sometimes go away on their own, but they may come back.
Some AKs may turn into squamous cell skin cancers. Most AKs do not become cancer, but it can be hard sometimes to tell them apart from true skin cancers, so doctors often recommend treating them. If they are not treated, you and your doctor should check them regularly for changes that might be signs of skin cancer.
Squamous cell carcinoma in situ (Bowen disease)
Squamous cell carcinoma in situ, also called Bowen disease, is the earliest form of squamous cell skin cancer. “In situ” means that the cells of these cancers are still only in the epidermis (the upper layer of the skin) and have not invaded into deeper layers.
Bowen disease appears as reddish patches. Compared with AKs, Bowen disease patches tend to be larger (sometimes over ½ inch across), redder, scalier, and sometimes crusted. Like AK, Bowen disease usually doesn’t cause symptoms, although it might be itchy or sore.
Like most other skin cancers (and AKs), these patches most often appear in sun-exposed areas. Bowen disease can also occur in the skin of the anal and genital areas (where it is known as erythroplasia of Queyrat or Bowenoid papulosis). This is often related to sexually transmitted infection with human papilloma viruses (HPVs), the viruses that can also cause genital warts.
Bowen disease can sometimes progress to an invasive squamous cell skin cancer, so doctors usually recommend treating it. People who have these are also at higher risk for other skin cancers, so close follow-up with a doctor is important.
Benign skin tumors
Most skin tumors are benign (not cancerous) and rarely if ever turn into cancers. There are many kinds of benign skin tumors, including:
- Most types of moles (see Melanoma Skin Cancer for more about moles)
- Seborrheic keratoses: tan, brown, or black raised spots with a waxy texture or occasionally a slightly rough and crumbly surface when they are on the legs (also known as stucco keratosis)
- Hemangiomas: benign blood vessel growths, often called strawberry spots
- Lipomas: soft tumors made up of fat cells
- Warts: rough-surfaced growths caused by some types of human papilloma virus (HPV)