May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and we’ve discussed the importance of skin cancer screenings and early detection. However, what happens to skin cancer when it goes undetected or untreated? This guide will break down how the most common types of skin cancer can affect your body when left without treatment.
Melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer. It’s more likely to spread than other types of skin cancer, so early detection is important. As with many other diseases, there are specific stages of skin cancer. Melanoma gets progressively worse as it moves through the stages, and it can be harder to treat as it develops.
At its earliest stages, melanoma occurs in the outer layer of the skin. Stage I melanoma has less than one millimeter of depth, making it easier to remove. Once melanoma moves on to the intermediate stages, the tumor grows in depth. The cancer also has a higher risk of spreading.
If left untreated, the melanoma can spread into the surrounding skin, lymph nodes, or other parts of the body. This cancer often spreads to the bones, gastrointestinal tract, liver, lungs, and brain. Late-stage melanoma can be more challenging to treat and the survival rate is lower.
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer. It’s typically slow-growing, but early detection can make treatment much less extensive. Early treatment can remove the tumor site without harming the surrounding skin. However, the cancer may spread further underneath the skin as it progresses. When this occurs, removal can be more invasive and potentially alter the appearance of the skin.
BCC will rarely spread, but it may reach nearby bones, lymph nodes, or organs if left untreated. This wider spread can mean longer and more intensive treatment to remove the cancer. So, even though BCC grows slowly and the survival rate is high, it’s important to see your dermatologist as soon as you notice symptoms.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second-most common form of skin cancer. This cancer starts in the outer layer of the skin and can spread inward. The five-year survival rate of SCC is 99 percent, and it’s unlikely to spread to other organs. However, early detection can lead to less-invasive removal while maintaining this high survival rate.
It’s important to note that SCC is more likely to spread than BCC. If spread occurs, it may appear in the surrounding bones, lymph nodes, and organs. Individuals with compromised immune systems may be more likely to experience metastasized non-melanoma skin cancers than those with healthy immune systems.
While the idea of untreated skin cancer can be scary, you don’t need to accept the risk. Seeing your dermatologist frequently and checking for skin cancer symptoms at home can help with early detection. When your dermatologist diagnoses skin cancer in the early stages, they can provide prompt skin cancer treatment and prevent the cancer from spreading.
Skin Cancer Awareness Month is a great time to schedule a skin cancer screening. The team at Pacific Dermatology Specialists are committed to educating our patients and providing exemplary skin cancer care. We have locations in Long Beach, CA and communities in the surrounding area, so be sure to contact us to book your screening today.