If your skin cancer screening ends with a diagnosis, treatment should happen as soon as possible. But what happens if you choose to leave skin cancer untreated? Here's what you need to know.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer diagnosed in the United States. While this type of skin cancer is slow to progress, it's still incredibly important to have it treated as soon as possible after you're diagnosed. Basal cell carcinoma rarely spreads to other parts of the body, but that doesn't mean it won't spread across your skin. Without treatment, a basal cell carcinoma could grow -- slowly -- to encompass a large area of skin on your body. In addition, basal cell carcinoma has the potential to cause ulcers and permanently damage the skin and surrounding tissues. There is also a possibility of permanent disfigurement in the area that was left untreated. It's important to note that basal cell carcinoma also most often appears on the face. What started as a small bump on your cheek could spread and cause permanent damage to facial tissues. Depending on how long a basal cell carcinoma has been left untreated, radiotherapy may be the only viable treatment option. In other cases, early treatment with Mohs surgery could have preserved a lot more healthy tissue and eliminated the cancer entirely.
Squamous cell carcinoma is also a relatively slow-growing type of skin cancer. That being said, it's still quite dangerous to leave this skin cancer untreated. The most important reason to treat this cancer early on is its ability to spread to the lymph nodes. Once squamous cell carcinoma reaches the lymph nodes and starts to spread from there, it becomes much more difficult to treat effectively. Squamous cell carcinoma is most dangerous when it develops on the skin around areas like the face, lips, neck, or ears. These areas are close to lymph nodes, which means it wouldn't take very long for this type of skin cancer to spread there. To spot squamous cell carcinoma early on, look for red, scaly patches of skin. If this cancer is left untreated for a significant period of time, subsequent treatment may require reconstructive surgery. This is particularly common if squamous cell carcinoma is left untreated on the face, lips, or neck.
Melanoma is one of the most dangerous types of skin cancer. When it's diagnosed and treated early on, the cure rate is relatively high. But if left untreated, melanoma can have deadly consequences. This type of skin cancer is one of the most aggressive -- it spreads at an alarming rate throughout the body. In as little as six weeks, melanoma could threaten your life because it has spread from your skin to other organs and tissues throughout your body. If it's caught early in a skin cancer screening, melanoma can be removed with excision surgery or Mohs micrographic surgery. If left to spread, chemotherapy or radiation may be required to treat it.
A skin cancer diagnosis can be scary, but early, effective treatment is possible and recommended. If you have questions about abnormalities on your skin and want to schedule a skin cancer screening, contact our team at North Pacific Dermatology to set up an appointment today.