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Pain Intensity May Help Differentiate 2 Skin Cancers

Both squamous cell and basal cell cause itch, but pain more common with squamous, study finds

Painful and itchy skin lesions may be a sign of a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma, according to a new study.

Researchers looked at data from nearly 500 patients treated for either basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma, the two most common types of skin cancer.

Itch was the most common symptom reported in both skin cancers -- 43 percent of patients with squamous cell and 33 percent of those with basal cell reported the symptom. Pain was much more common in patients with squamous cell carcinoma (almost 40 percent) than in those with basal cell carcinoma (nearly 18 percent), the investigators found.

A patient's pain score was an important predictor of having squamous cell instead of basal cell carcinoma, said study author Gil Yosipovitch, a professor of dermatology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.

"We have shown the intensity of pain to be a unique factor to help in differentiating [squamous cell carcinoma] from [basal cell carcinoma]," Yosipovitch said in a medical center news release. "The results of this study suggest that a simple assessment of pain intensity will aid in the clinical diagnosis of [squamous cell carcinoma] and lead to earlier, appropriately aggressive treatment for these cancerous lesions that are more aggressive than [basal cell carcinoma]."

The findings were published in a letter in the Dec. 17 online edition of the journal Archives of Dermatology.

Squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma are non-melanoma skin cancers. About 4 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancers are diagnosed in the United States each year.

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