Understanding Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer

Face Your Sun Regrets

Expert Advice from Elizabeth K. Hale, M.D.

Dr. Hale is a board-certified dermatologist with a private practice, CompleteSkinMD, in New York City. She specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer, cosmetic dermatology and laser surgery, and is an advocate for increasing awareness of nonmelanoma skin cancer. Dr. Hale is vice president of The Skin Cancer Foundation, through which she frequently volunteers her time on screening initiatives and public speaking events about the early detection and treatment of skin cancer.

Dr. Hale is a DermTech consultant.

Precautions for Prevention

As 90% of nonmelanoma skin cancer is caused by UV light,1,2 there is no way to completely prevent nonmelanoma skin cancer. There are important steps that can be taken to reduce the risk.

Woman sitting under an umbrella
  • Limit exposure to UV rays through the sun or a tanning bed.3
  • When outside, seek shade.3
  • Limit outside time during the hours the sun’s rays are the strongest, which is between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.4
  • Wear protective clothing, including long-sleeves, pants, a hat and clothing with SPF built in.4
  • Use a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher whenever outside, even on cloudy days.3
  • Avoid using tanning beds.3
  • Conduct regular self skin checks and see a board-certified dermatologist for annual skin checks.3

Treating Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer

Basal Cell
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Treatment for basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas depends on several individualized factors, including size and location.

  • Surgical treatment, such as excision, curettage and electrodesiccation, or Mohs surgery, is typically the most effective, but a board-certified dermatologist will determine the best course of action.5,6,7
  • Other treatment options may include cryotherapy, radiation or topical therapy.5,6,7
  • If the basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma is advanced, targeted therapy, chemotherapy, and/or immunotherapy may be considered.6,7,8
Basal Cell
Basal Cell Carcinoma

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Actinic keratosis

Treating actinic keratosis is important as it can help reduce the risk of developing skin cancer. After examining a patient’s skin, a board-certified dermatologist will determine a treatment plan based on how many AKs a patient has, the location on the body, what the AKs look like, if they’ve had prior skin cancer and any other medical conditions.

  • Some treatments may be done at home, including topical ointments or creams, while others may be done in a dermatologist’s office.
  • In-office treatment options may include cryotherapy, chemical peels or photodynamic therapy.9 Some treatments may only take one to two office visits.
  • Topical DNA repair creams have been shown to reduce the appearance of new actinic keratoses.10
Actinic keratosis

Only a licensed dermatologist can diagnose NMSC and recommend appropriate treatment. This information is provided for educational and informational purposes only and in no way is or should be interpreted to provide medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or identification of any disease or condition. Consult a healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about your health.

  1. Pleasance E.D., Cheetham R.K., Stephens P.J. A comprehensive catalogue of somatic mutations from a human cancer genome. Nature. Jan 14, 2010;463(7278):191–196.
  2. Young Kim, Yu-Ying He. Ultraviolet radiation-induced non-melanoma skin cancer: Regulation of DNA damage repair and inflammation. Genes & Diseases. Sept 16, 2014; 1(2); 188-189.
  3. American Cancer Society. Can Basal and Squamous Cell Skin Cancers Be Prevented? Accessed Nov. 11, 2022. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/basal-and-squamous-cell-skin-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/prevention.html
  4. American Cancer Society. How Do I Protect Myself from Ultraviolet (UV) Rays? Accessed Feb. 24, 2023. https://www.cancer.org/healthy/be-safe-in-sun/uv-protection.html
  5. American Academy of Dermatology. American Academy of Dermatology issues new guidelines for treatment of nonmelanoma skin cancer. Accessed Jan. 18, 2023. https://www.aad.org/news/guidelines-to-treat-nonmelanoma-skin-cancer.
  6. Work Group; Invited Reviewers; Kim JYS, Kozlow JH, Mittal B, Moyer J, Olenecki T, Rodgers P. Guidelines of care for the management of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2018 Mar;78(3):560-578.
  7. Work Group; Invited Reviewers; Kim JYS, Kozlow JH, Mittal B, Moyer J, Olencki T, Rodgers P. Guidelines of care for the management of basal cell carcinoma. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2018 Mar;78(3):540-559.
  8. American Cancer Society. Immunotherapy for Advanced Basal or Squamous Cell Skin Cancers. Accessed Jan. 18, 2023. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/basal-and-squamous-cell-skin-cancer/treating/immunotherapy.html
  9. American Academy of Dermatology. Actinic Keratosis: Diagnosis and Treatment. Accessed Jan. 18, 2023. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/skin-cancer/actinic-keratosis-treatment
  10. Yarosh DB, Rosenthal A, Moy R. Six critical questions for DNA repair enzymes in skincare products: a review in dialog. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2019 Aug 29;12:617-624.