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Research about basal and squamous cell skin cancers is going on in many medical centers throughout the world.

Basic skin cancer research

Scientists have made a lot of progress in recent years in learning how UV light harms normal skin cells and causes them to become cancer. Researchers are working to use this new knowledge to find ways to prevent and treat skin cancers.

Public education

Most skin cancers can be prevented. People need to know about how to protect themselves and how to make sure any skin cancer is found early. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) sponsors free skin cancer screenings around the country every year. Many local ACS offices work with the AAD to help with these screenings. Watch for information in your area, or call the AAD. Their phone number and web address are listed in “How can I learn more about basal and squamous cell cancer?”.

Preventing genital skin cancers

Squamous cell cancers that start around the genitals account for almost half of the deaths from this type of skin cancer. Many of these cancers are linked to infection with certain types of human papilloma virus (HPV), which can be spread through sexual contact. Having fewer sex partners and using safer sex methods (such as using condoms) might help lower the risk of some of these cancers.

Vaccines can help protect against infection from some types of HPV. The main purpose of these vaccines is to reduce the risk of cervical cancer, but they may also lower a person’s risk of other cancers linked to HPV.

Prevention using medicines

This is an area of active research. Using drugs to prevent cancers from forming is called chemoprevention. This is likely to be more useful for people at high risk of skin cancers than for people at average risk. High risk includes people with certain genetic syndromes, those who have had a skin cancer before, or those who have had organ transplants.


Local treatments

Local treatments are aimed just at the skin cancer cells and a small amount of normal tissue around them. Local treatments work well for most basal and squamous cell skin cancers. Still, even small cancers can be hard to treat if they’re in certain areas. Newer forms of non-surgical treatment (like creams, light therapy, and laser surgery) may help reduce scarring and other possible side effects of treatment. Studies are now being done to find the best way to use these treatments and to try to make them work better.

Treating advanced disease

Most basal and squamous cell skin cancers are found and treated at an early stage, when they are likely to be cured, but some can spread to other parts of the body. These cancers can often be hard to treat with current treatments such as radiation and chemo.

Studies are testing newer targeted drugs for advanced squamous cell cancers. Cells from these cancers often have too much of a protein called EGFR on their surfaces, which may help them grow. Drugs such as erlotinib (Tarceva), gefitinib (Iressa), and cetuximab (Erbitux) that target this protein are now being tested in clinical trials. A drug known as dasatinib (Sprycel), which targets different cell proteins, is also being studied for advanced skin cancers.

It’s very rare for basal cell cancers to reach an advanced stage, but these cancers can be hard to treat. Vismodegib (Erivedge) and sonidegib (Odomzo) are drugs that may help some people (see “Targeted therapy for basal and squamous cell skin cancers”). Other targeted drugs are now being studied for basal cell cancers as well.

Last Medical Review: 05/06/2015
Last Revised: 02/01/2016