A woman looks concerned as she holds a photo frame showing a suspicious mole.

Why Can’t I Just Leave My Skin Cancer Untreated?

Something that bothers me is when I see people post that they have had a basal cell or squamous cell area on their skin for years but won’t get it treated because ‘it doesn’t hurt anything to leave it there.’

Leaving skin cancer untreated is not a smart option

This bothers me for a couple of reasons. One, because it reinforces that there still isn’t enough awareness about skin cancer and that people don’t always realize the damage skin cancer can do. And second, because I know that it’s not true that leaving skin cancer untreated is harmless.

We humans are pretty good at justifying why we do or don’t do something. Treating skin cancer may not feel like it’s a priority right now. There are better (and more fun) things to spend the money on. Taking a vacation sounds much more appealing than paying medical bills. Or maybe you need a new washing machine. Your child may need braces. The list can go on and on.

All skin cancer can be deadly if untreated

Far too many people brush off skin cancer as ‘just’ skin cancer. It won’t kill you, right? Wrong! Skin cancer can kill you, and I’m not just talking about melanoma. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma can both be deadly.1 Granted, that happens less frequently than with melanoma, but why would you want to take that chance? And even if your basal cell or squamous cell doesn’t end up killing you, it can do a lot of damage.

Leaving basal cell carcinoma untreated

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer.1 And typically, people think it’s the “best” kind of skin cancer to have (if there was a good kind to have). That doesn’t mean it won’t cause harm, though. Basal cells can grow deep. What you see on the skin’s surface may only be a small representation of the actual size of the cancer. Left untreated, basal cell carcinoma can grow fairly large and can cause disfigurement. Basal cell carcinoma areas can spread to nearby bone or tissue.1 I had an area of basal cell carcinoma that had wrapped around a nerve, and my doctor had to move the nerve to get all of the cancer out. This left me with permanent numbness in that area.

Leaving squamous cell carcinoma untreated

As with basal cells, squamous cell carcinomas can also spread to bones and tissues, but they may also spread to lymph nodes or other organs. Squamous cell cancers can grow more aggressively than basal cell cancers and can become quite large.1 If you still think they’re no big deal, I’d recommend that you Google images of squamous cell areas or basal cell areas left untreated. Some of them aren't very pretty, but they are eye-opening.

The lesson here? Don’t ignore your skin cancer. If you don’t get it treated, it could get worse. Much worse. Make yourself a priority, and take good care of you.

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