Non-melanoma skin cancers are malignant tumours that begin in the skin cells. Malignant means that it can spread to other parts of the body. Your body’s largest organ is your skin. The top layer of your skin is the epidermis and the second layer is the dermis, which is below the epidermis. The epidermis is made up of 3 types of cells: Squamous cells, basal cells (these lie under the squamous cells) and melanocytes, which are found between the basal cells. Melanocytes make melanin, which gives you your skin and eyes their colour. Sometimes these cells change and behave abnormally, or cease to grow. This might lead to non-cancerous, or benign, tumours such as dermatofibromas, epidermal cysts or moles. Changes to skin cells can also cause cancer. Different types of skin cells cause different types of skin cancers. When it starts in the squamous cells or basal cells, it is called non-melanoma skin cancer. When it begins in the melanocytes, it is called melanoma.
These abnormal changes to skin cells can also cause precancerous conditions that develop a higher chance of becoming non-melanoma skin cancer. Bowen’s disease and actinic keratosis are two of the most common precancerous conditions. It is also important to understand that sometimes, changes to squamous cells or basal cells can lead to skin cancer. Most often these start in the basal cells. This type of cancer is called basal cell carcinoma of the skin. Approximately 75% of skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas. Non-melanoma skin cancers can also start in the squamous cells and it is called squamous cell carcinoma. Squamous cell carcinoma makes up approximately 20% of skin cancers. At Concept Medical in Ottawa we take the health of your skin seriously. If you have any areas on your skin that you are concerned about, please visit your family physician or one of our medical doctors who have a specialized focus in dermatology. At Concept Medical, our trained medical staff stays up-to-date on the most effective treatments for sun-damaged skin and preventative steps that can be taken to lessen the risk of your pre-cancerous condition developing into a non-malignant skin cancer. If you have been diagnosed with any of the skin cancers mentioned here, our highly skilled surgeons could also be an important component of your health care. You can book a consultation with any of our physicians through a referral from your family doctor; and in some cases, you can book directly with us by contacting us here or by phone at 613-829-1266.