I’ve Had a Skin Cancer. What Are the Chances It Will Happen Again?
Maybe you spent one too many summers in the sun without slathering your skin with sunscreen, or maybe you’re a fair-skinned redhead who spends their free time on the golf course. Whatever the reason, you were diagnosed with a skin cancer, which your doctor removed. Now, you often find yourself wondering to yourself, what is the risk for getting another skin cancer after I’ve had one? It’s a common emotional reaction, and according to some experts, it’s not necessarily an unfounded fear. It depends on a number of factors.
“Although nobody can tell you for certain whether or not your cancer will return, there is plenty of data on the odds of developing new tumors or getting a recurrence of each type of skin cancer and what factors make it more likely,” shares Dr. Adam Mamelak, board certified Dermatologist and Mohs micrographic surgeon at Sanova Dermatology. In general, if you’ve been diagnosed with any type of skin cancer, you’re automatically at greater risk for developing another skin cancer in the future. So the first question is, what type of skin cancer did you have?
Studies have shown that the risk of developing a new Basal Cell Carcinoma or Squamous Cell Carcinoma after you’ve had one increases by about 10-fold. “This is one of the reasons why we continue to examine our patients’ skin after they’ve been treated,” says Dr. Mamelak. In regards to recurrences, there are soma additional details.
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
Developing a recurrence of your BCC typically depends on what type of therapy you opted for to treat your lesion:
- If you chose Mohs surgery, your chances are significantly lower — less than 1% within the first 5 years.
- If you chose cryotherapy, your risks are higher — about 7.5% within the same time frame.
- If you chose electrodessication and curretage , your chances of a recurrence are a tad higher — about 7.7%.
- If you chose surgical incision, your chances are the highest — about 10.1%
According to a published study, the following factors also play a role in determining your risk for a recurrence:
- The younger you were when you were diagnosed with a BCC, the greater your risk for a recurrence.
- People with naturally red hair are at a greater risk.
- The location of the lesion makes a difference. If it was on your upper extremities, your risk is for a recurrence is higher. It’s also higher if the lesion was on your nose, ear or eyelid.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
“Anyone who’s had one Squamous Cell Carcinoma is likely to develop another in the same general vicinity of the first,” explains Dr. Mamelak. “This is due to the fact that the skin in that area has similar sun damage,” he continues. Most recurrences will develop within 2 years of the first incidence. Your risk is also greater if the lesion appeared on nose, ears or lips, so those areas should be closely monitored by your doctor via regular full-body screenings. Overall, your chances of recurrence range anywhere from 3% to 23%.
This type of skin cancer is more aggressive and generally considered more serious, although it accounts for only about 2% of all skin cancers. “It grows and spreads faster than other types of skin cancers, and your chances of developing another melanoma skin cancer is 9 times higher than a person who’s never had one,” says Dr. Mamelak. Unfortunately, a person who’s developed melanoma is automatically at greater risk for developing other types of skin cancers as well. The good news is that melanoma is almost 100% curable if caught early — before it spreads.
No matter what type of skin cancer you’ve had, there are steps you can — and should — take to prevent a recurrence:
- Do regular (monthly) self-exams.
- Keep all follow-up appointments with your dermatologist.
- Stay out of the sun when you can, and use about 2 tablespoons of broad spectrum sunscreen (at least 30 SPF) on your skin every day (rain or shine!) before going outside.
If you’d like to be screened for skin cancer in the Austin, Texas region, contact us at Sanova Dermatology today!