A common place for skin cancers to develop is on the lip, likely because the face receives a lot of sun exposure over our lifetime and the lips are often missed when we apply sunscreen.
If you have been diagnosed with a skin cancer on the lip, you might be anxious about treatment. It is natural to feel uncertain about any procedure on the face, and you may wonder how to manage everyday tasks like speaking, smiling, eating and kissing.
Your lips are a sensitive and important part of you, and so great care is taken to maintain their sensation and function when you undergo treatment for lip cancer.
The most common type of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma, can appear on the upper lip on the skin-coloured part rather than the pink or red part of the lip.
More often, skin cancers develop on the lower lip, and most of these are squamous cell carcinomas. Squamous cell carcinomas are less common than their basal cell counterparts but more dangerous, and are more likely to spread.
It is also possible to develop melanoma on and around the lips.
Lip cancers are most often caused by UV radiation from the sun or tanning beds, and are more common in men. This is probably because men work outdoors more often and use less SPF lip balm than women do.
A common treatment for skin cancers on the lip is called Mohs surgery, which has a high cure rate and is great for delicate areas of the face where we want to preserve the healthy tissue so as not to impact your appearance.
Mohs surgery involves shaving off a tiny portion of the skin and then studying it under a microscope to check if it contains cancer cells. The skin is thinly shaved piece by piece until the samples are clear of any cancerous cells, indicating the entire skin cancer has been removed.
Since squamous cell carcinomas (the most common type of lip cancer) have a higher risk of spreading, removing the entire cancer and its roots is very important.
Standard excision surgery may alternatively be performed, which involves cutting out the skin cancer plus a portion of healthy tissue around it, and then stitching the skin. This is often avoided in the lip area, however, as a resulting scar is highly likely.
Other treatments may include topical therapies like creams and ointments, but this method only works for very superficial skin cancers.
With any treatment, you may be left with a small scar on your lip, but regular function of your mouth will return within just a few days or weeks, depending on the complexity of your treatment.
More advanced or spreading skin cancers will require more aggressive treatment, but your doctor will walk you through this scenario.
The key is to detect skin cancers early, no matter where they are. Early detection offers the best chance of successful treatment and cure, and means the skin cancer is less likely to disfigure or permanently impact the functionality of your lips or other body part.
Regularly look for anything on your lips that is new, changing or unusual. If a spot is not healing on or around your lips, get it checked by your doctor.