The process used to find out if cancer has spread within the skin or
to other parts of the body is called staging. The information gathered from the
staging process determines the stage of the disease. It is important to know
the stage in order to plan treatment. A biopsy is often the only test needed to determine the stage of nonmelanoma skin cancer. Lymph nodes may be examined in cases of squamous cell carcinoma to see if cancer has spread to them.
In stage 0, cancer is found only in the epidermis (topmost layer of the skin), in the layer of cells in which the cancer began. Stage 0 cancer is also
called carcinoma in situ.
In stage I, the
tumor is 2 centimeters or smaller.
In stage II, the
tumor is larger than 2 centimeters.
In stage III, cancer
has spread below the skin to cartilage, muscle, or bone and/or to nearby lymph nodes, but not to other parts of the body.
In stage IV, cancer
has spread to other parts of the body.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. It usually occurs on areas of the skin that have been in the sun, most often the nose. Often this cancer appears as a small raised bump that has a smooth, pearly appearance. Another type looks like a scar and is flat and firm to the touch. Basal cell carcinoma may spread to tissues around the cancer, but it usually does not spread to other parts of the body.
Squamous cell carcinoma occurs on areas of the skin that have been in the sun, such as the ears, lower lip, and the back of the hands. Squamous cell carcinoma may also appear on areas of the skin that have been burned or exposed to chemicals or radiation. Often this cancer appears as a firm red bump. Sometimes the tumor may feel scaly or bleed or develop a crust. Squamous cell tumors may spread to nearby lymph nodes.
Actinic keratosis is a skin condition that is not cancer, but sometimes changes into squamous cell carcinoma. It usually occurs in areas that have been exposed to the sun, such as the face, the back of the hands, and the lower lip. It appears as rough, red, pink, or brown, raised, scaly patches on the skin, or cracking or peeling of the lower lip that is not helped by lip balm or petroleum jelly.
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