Outside of melanoma, most skin cancers are relatively slow to progress. Fortunately, the majority of skin cancers are non-melanoma cancers and aren’t immediately life-threatening. Many clinics are closed or are unavailable to provide space for COVID-19 related emergencies. As a result, many procedures, including skin cancer treatments, have been postponed. It is a concerning time for patients, and we’d like to provide some guidance.
About Skin Cancer
By far, the two most common skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). Cancers are invasive by definition, and without treatment, they will continue to grow and spread. BCC and SCC are rarely fatal but will spread to nearby skin if left untreated. Across the world, many healthcare systems are either overwhelmed or delaying non-emergency procedures to prepare for COVID-19 related emergencies. The problem with language like “emergency” or “essential” is that there is no clear line. It’s not necessarily obvious what qualifies. Skin cancer would seem essential, but in many cases, these appointments will be put on hold. As hospitals can also become potential vectors, there may be other considerations for the delay. This situation creates considerable stress on skin cancer patients who may have had their procedures put on hold.
Diagnosis Starts with Patient Awareness
For better or worse, in North America, it’s rare for adults to visit a doctor for regular check-ups. The first step of the diagnosis is on you, the patient. A doctor can’t start treatment before diagnosis, and they can’t diagnose until you make an appointment. Campaigns to identify skin cancer can save lives for this reason. In practice, a big part of beating skin cancer falls on how aware people are of the first signs. It’s the starting point of beating skin cancer and is even more critical today.
Melanoma deserves a special mention because it is so much more dangerous than the other skin cancers. First, ensure that you aren’t dealing with melanoma. It is the rarest type of skin cancer but accounts for the vast majority of skin cancer deaths. Melanoma needs to be treated as soon as possible. It is a cancer of the melanocyte that is characterized by a dark-colored patch on the skin. While rare, melanoma is aggressive and can affect young patients, making it much more of an emergency than other skin cancers. Read more about identifying the signs of melanoma here.
Non-melanoma Skin Cancer
If you are dealing with non-melanoma skin cancer, you have more time. You may have had delays in your procedure due to the COVID-19 situation. The two non-melanoma cancers that make up the vast majority of skin cancer are Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) and Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC). Both skin cancers have a low fatality rate, and BCCs, in particular, are seldom fatal. Some patients who have had surgical procedures scheduled may now be delayed due to the COVID-19 crisis. In these cases, the doctor should have instructions or procedures to follow up with the patient.
Identifying Basal Cell Carcinomas and Squamous Cell Carcinomas
Basal Cell Carcinomas (BCC) is the most common skin cancer. It accounts for nearly 80% of all skin cancers.1 Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common skin cancer and accounts for approximately 20% of skin cancers. There are other types of skin cancers, but BCCs and SCCs account for the vast majority of non-melanoma skin cancers.
BCC mainly affects those who are middle-aged or older and form on sun-exposed areas like the face and neck area. BCCs are rarely fatal, but should not be ignored as it will continue to damage surrounding skin if left untreated.
- Raised bump on the skin
- It may appear as a sore that doesn’t heal
- Pink or red scaly areas on the trunk may also be a sign of a BCC
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common skin cancer. SCCs are more dangerous than Basal Cell Carcinomas. They can metastasize to other areas of the body if left untreated. SCCs can manifest in several ways, so it can be challenging to identify for a patient. Some typical symptoms include:
- Red nodules
- Flat sores with scales
- Scaly patches on the lips
Any sore or injury that doesn’t heal is a good enough reason to be suspicious. It’s up to the doctor to make an accurate diagnosis, but it is still up to the patient to decide to see a doctor.
The Next Step
Today, some of us have limited access to medical services due to the COVID-19 situation. Clinics may be closed for non-emergencies or may have restricted hours. If they are open, patients may believe that it’s too risky to enter a clinic where ill people are more likely to visit. If you have a clinic that you regularly visit, check their website, or call them for more information. Your options will vary depending on the COVID-19 situation and the regulations in your locale, and the clinic’s judgment. Some clinics may offer expanded online consultation services, which may be an option for you.
Learn more about skin cancers on Dermletter.