Can Skin Cancer Come Back?
After defeating a case of skin cancer, the last thing you want to hear is that it might come back. While many people live a cancer-free life after treatment, it is possible for skin cancer to return (this is known as recurrence). Since it’s best to be prepared for every scenario, we’ve put together some information on skin cancer recurrence and how you can lower your risk factors.
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) Recurrence
The rate of basal cell carcinoma recurrence is about 40%, which means there’s definitely a chance of this type of skin cancer coming back after it’s been removed. If BCC does recur, it will usually return to a different spot on the body.
After treatment for BCC, it’s a good idea to see a dermatologist once or twice a year for a complete skin examination. Basal cell carcinoma may recur more than five years after treatment. So if you’ve had BCC, you’ll probably want to have a complete skin examination once a year for the rest of your life, just to be safe. You can also ask your dermatologist how often they think you should come in, as risk factors vary for different people.
In general, you’re more likely to experience recurring BCC if you have a weakened immune system, if you have fair skin, or if you’re exposed to strong sunlight. That’s why it’s important to wear sunscreen, hats, and clothing that protects your body from the sun.
The size and location of tumors can also play a role in whether or not BCC recurs. When tumors are large, grow quickly, develop around a nerve, or have unclear borders, the risk of recurrent BCC increases. This is also the case if a tumor has already recurred once, or if it develops at the site where you’ve previously had radiation therapy. Tumors are less likely to come back after Mohs surgery or excision.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) Recurrence
Most recurrences of squamous cell carcinoma occur within two years after treatment, though they can recur later. SCC patients are at increased risk of developing another cancerous lesion in the same location as the first or in a nearby area.
As is the case with BCC, people who have previously had SCC will want to see a dermatologist for a complete skin examination on a regular basis. Your dermatologist can offer suggestions for how often these examinations should take place. Generally, you’ll want to have one every three to 12 months for the first two years following treatment. After that, you may want to have examinations once or twice a year for the rest of your life.
UV light exposure (from the sun or from tanning beds) is a primary risk factor for SCC recurrence, which means lathering on the sunscreen and wearing a hat to protect your face from strong sunlight are good prevention habits. SCC is also more likely to recur if the initial cancerous skin lesion develops on the ears, nose, or lips, or if it grows around a nerve, lymph vessel, or blood vessel. Thicker, more invasive tumors are also more likely to recur. As with BCC, tumors are less likely to return after Mohs surgery and excision.
It’s not uncommon for melanoma to return after treatment, and there’s apparently no time limit as to when this can happen. In fact, around 7% of patients experience a second case of melanoma 15 years after treatment, and 11% experience a return 25 years after treatment. In addition, melanoma can recur at any point on the body, not necessarily at the initial site of the tumor.
Depending on your risk factors and stage of cancer, your dermatologist may recommend follow-up appointments every three or six months, or simply on a yearly basis. These should continue throughout your life, as melanoma can return after a number of years.
A big risk factor for recurrence is the stage of your first case of melanoma. If you had an early stage of the cancer, you can expect it to return much later or possibly not at all. If you had a later stage, your risk of recurrent melanoma is higher.
While it’s definitely not fun to think about skin cancer returning, you can take comfort in the fact that, with good prevention habits and regular visits to your dermatologist, you’ll minimize your risk of recurrent skin cancer and maximize your chances of living a healthy, cancer-free life.