Age May be a Factor in Facial Skin Cancer Treatment


By Shereen Lehman

mole on shoulder(Reuters Health) – In very elderly patients, less aggressive skin cancers on the face might not always need to be treated, a new study suggests.


Age of the patient and relative lifespan could be taken into consideration when discussing treatment for slow-growing facial nonmelanoma skin cancer, say the authors.

“There are multiple ways to treat, all cancers aren't the same, and skin cancer more often . . . is not lethal,” coauthor Dr. Sunil Tholpady of the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis told Reuters Health.

Non-melanoma skin cancer refers to squamous cell carcinoma or basal cell carcinoma, Tholpady explained. “The decision to cut them out or treat them in some fashion should take into account the patient's lifestyle, their needs, and their wishes as long as they understand what the course of the cancer usually is,” he said.

Tholpady and his colleagues studied 440 adults over age 40 with 569 non-melanoma skin cancers on the face.

About 55% were basal cell carcinomas and 30% were squamous cell carcinomas, they reported online December 20 in JAMA Surgery.

Overall, in about a third of the cases, there was no cancer left in the skin after the lesion was removed for the biopy. This was true for roughly half of patients over age 90.

During the next several years, 50 patients died. Not surprisingly, the largest percentage of deaths was among patients in their 90s. No one died of the skin cancers, however.

In more than one in three patients above age 80, and in more than half of those above 90, simply removing the lesion for biopsy left the patients cancer-free. In other words, the researchers say, “a large minority of patients” would not have needed more extensive treatments.

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