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a woman looks angrily back at her shoulder where a spot persists

Carcinoma? Yeah, That’s Cancer, Too.

I heard it again just the other day. It’s certainly not the first time I have heard it, and I’ll just bet it won’t be the last. Someone gave me a sideways glance and a slight shake of the head and said, “You know melanoma is really the only skin cancer you have to worry about, right? The others are not something you need to have cut out.” Geez. Where do I start? As someone who has had both melanoma and basal cell carcinoma, I beg to differ.

My doctor’s concern is my concern

Biopsy after biopsy (I’ve actually lost count since 2007), I wait the week and half or so to hear whether I’ll need an excision or Mohs surgery. If a biopsy doesn’t reveal cancer, I’m good to go–no further treatment and keep an eye on the area for recurrence and/or changes. That news generally arrives via a notification in my doctor’s app or in a letter. Any time, and I mean any time, lab results show any sign of cancer, my doctor calls. Three times I have been diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma and each time my doctor called to schedule Mohs as soon as possible. He does not take it lightly and does not dismiss it as “only basal cell.”

Basal cell at a glance

There are some pretty clear distinctions between melanoma and nonmelanoma cancers like basal cell carcinoma. Basal cell carcinoma, though it is usually cured when caught and treated in the early stages of development, is cause for concern. Not once, has my dermatologist said following a basal cell diagnosis, “Let’s just watch it a while.”

Basal cell carcinoma is fairly sneaky in nature, and that may be why many people shrug it off so easily. Basal cell lesions can take one of several forms ranging from small, almost clear bumps to dark spots on the skin. All three of my basal cell carcinomas were tiny white scaly spots that would not heal and did not respond to moisturizers. It’s understandable that many patients wouldn’t think twice about these types of skin abnormalities and struggle to see them as problematic–as “nothing to worry about.”

The darker side of basal cell carcinoma

Another reason many people may reserve their cancer fears for melanoma is that basal cell carcinoma is generally cured easily. According to the Mayo Clinic, however, there are less frequently occurring forms of basal cell which, if left untreated, can cause damage to bones as well as tissue in muscles and nerves. Though occasions are rare, basal cell is capable of metastasizing to other areas of the patient’s body.

Basal cell carcinoma is serious

I don’t know about you, but I want my dermatologist to be straight with me from the moment of diagnosis. If he finds that harmless looking little spot or flaky patch to show signs of basal cell carcinoma, I would kindly like him to schedule Mohs and get the job done. Carcinoma=cancer. Cancer=bad news any way you write it. Pass it on.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.