The Recurrence of Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer

by Anne Windermere Patient Advocate

If you have ever been treated for any type of skin cancer, one pressing question you may have is, "Will it return?" The answer is that nobody can tell you for sure whether your skin cancer will return, not even your doctor. Yet we do have information about the odds of recurrence for each type of skin cancer as well as information about which factors increase the likelihood for a recurrence. There are also ways that you can decrease the chance for your skin cancer to return by using some preventive strategies. We are going to share this information with you in hopes that you will beat the odds for developing new skin cancers.

What are the odds that my skin cancer will return?

If you have been diagnosed with any type of skin cancer, you are automatically at risk for developing another skin cancer in the years to come. The odds for recurrence greatly depend upon the type of skin cancer you have and how your skin cancer is treated. We are going to focus on basal cell
and squamous cell carcinoma for the purpose of this article.

Statistics for recurrence for Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC):

Developing more than one basal cell carcinoma is not uncommon. There are experts who say that you are 40 percent more likely to develop a new skin lesion if you have had a previous diagnosis of skin cancer as compared to those who have never had skin cancer.

The statistics for recurrence of basal cell carcinoma also depend upon what type of surgery you have chosen to treat your skin cancer. The Cleveland Clinic for Continuing Education cite five year recurrence rates of 1% for the treatment of primary BCC with Mohs Surgery. The rates of recurrence are much higher for other methods of treatment: 7.5% using cryotherapy, 7.7% for electrodesiccation and curettage (ED&C), and 10.1% for surgical excision.

Factors associated with BCC recurrence:

According to a recent study published in the Archives of Dermatology, the following types of patients were determined to have a greater risk for developing multiple basal cell carcinoma lesions:

  • Patients who are relatively young at their first BCC diagnosis. In contrast, the researchers found that those patients who developed a first BCC lesion after 75-years of age were significantly less likely to develop multiple lesions.

  • Patients with red hair

  • Patients with a higher socioeconomic status

  • Those with a BCC lesion on their upper extremities

Recurrence of basal cell carcinomas also seem to depend upon the location of the tumor. If you have a basal cell skin cancer on your nose, ear, or eyelid, you may be more prone to recurrence. It is suggested that you have these lesions completely removed, leaving no cancer cells, to prevent the likelihood of recurrence.

Recurrence Statistics for Squamous Cell Carcinoma:

The Skin Cancer Foundation warns that anyone who has had one squamous cell tumor has a greater risk of developing another tumor in the same skin area or nearby location. It is predicted that most recurring lesions will develop within the first two years after treatment.

The American Cancer Society
states that for small squamous cell tumors, the recurrence rate is similar to that for basal cell cancers. The larger types of lesions may be more difficult to treat and more aggressive. They cite a statistic that recurrence rates for large deep tumors may be as high as 50%.

Factors Contributing to Squamous Cell Carcinoma Recurrence:

One contributing factor in developing new squamous cell carcinoma lesions is the location of the first tumor. The Skin Cancer Foundation warns that squamous cell carcinomas on the nose, ears, and lips are especially prone to recurrence and that these skin areas should be watched carefully after treatment.

Another risk factor for developing multiple squamous cell skin cancers is having actinic keratoses which are pre-cancerous skin lesions said to be a breeding ground for future SCC lesions.

Some research indicates that genetics may also play a part in your risk of developing multiple squamous cell skin cancers especially of the head and neck.

If you have been diagnosed with skin cancer there is always that worry that it may return. In my next post we are going to discuss some preventive strategies to decrease the odds for a recurrence. As always it is best to discuss your skin cancer treatment options and risk for recurrence with your doctor.

Anne Windermere
Meet Our Writer
Anne Windermere

These articles were written by a longtime HealthCentral community member who shared valuable insights from her experience living with multiple chronic health conditions. She used the pen name "Merely Me."