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Basal Cell Versus Squamous Cell Carcinoma

written by: DulceCorazon • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 6/23/2010

There are several differences which can help distinguish between basal cell versus squamous cell carcinoma. Both are skin cancers that affect men and women. Find out more about their similarities and differences.

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    What is Basal Cell Carcinoma?

    Basal cell carcinoma is a slow growing, nonmelanoma cancer of the skin and is the number one cause of skin cancer in the United States. According the American Cancer Society, about 75% of all cancers of the skin are in the form of basal cell carcinoma.

    The cancer usually begins in the epidermis or the skin’s top layer. It is often diagnosed late as it grows slowly and patients do not suffer any pain. One characteristic of basal cell carcinoma is recent skin growths that do not heal well and that easily bleed. Areas of the skin that are commonly affected by the cancer are those that are always exposed to direct sunlight and ultraviolet light which are often used for tanning. It was previously common mostly in middle-aged adults, but lately, many younger people are also being diagnosed with skin cancer.

    Basal cell carcinoma does not metastasize to other organs, but if it left untreated, the cancer cells may attack its neighboring tissues and bones.

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    What is Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

    Squamous cell carcinoma is second only to basal cell carcinoma in incidence, but is a more serious cancer of the skin. It primarily occurs when there are changes in the skin’s cells. Risk factors is also frequent exposure to ultraviolet light and direct sunlight. This cancer is commonly seen in individuals 50 years and older.

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    What are the Differences Between Basal Cell Versus Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

    Basal cell carcinoma usually appears as a pink and waxy smooth papule that slowly enlarges and has the tendency to become ulcerated. It frequently comes out in several areas such as the head, face, neck, hands and arms. Management of basal cell carcinoma often involves excision, electrodessication and curettage, and Mohs microsurgery. Cryotherapy may likewise be used but it is often the second option for treatment, while radiation therapy is not advisable anymore. The cancer grows slowly, invades locally and seldom metastasize. Early identification allows treatment of small tumors and prevention of widespread destruction of the nearby tissues.

    On the other hand, squamous cell carcinoma has the tendency to spread to the other parts of the body, particularly to the lymph nodes. Frequency of exposure to ultraviolet light seems to be more significant to the pathogenesis of squamous cell carcinoma as compared to basal cell carcinoma. Most squamous cell carcinomas often develop in the sun-exposed areas but it can also occur anywhere including the mucous membranes. Their lesions appear as hyperkeratotic, erythematous and crusted nodule that may be loose on the surface and oftentimes tender to the touch. Treatment is almost similar to that of basal cell carcinoma. Anti-cancer topical creams are usually administered. Surgery and Mohs microsurgery are also performed depending on the size of the skin growth.

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