How Often Does Skin Cancer Return?

A huge majority of adults today spent their early years exposed to sunshine without any protection. While our understanding of the dangers of UV exposure has come a long way over the last several decades, damage done before sun safety became commonplace can’t be erased.

Skin cancer diagnoses are higher than ever. After a positive diagnosis and treatment, it’s critical to work with your doctors to manage risk and stay informed about when and how skin cancer may return. At Desert Bloom, our goal is to ensure every patient’s safety by providing all the necessary information to support long-term health.

Dr. Wallin is a board certified reconstructive surgeon with extensive experience repairing wounds caused by skin cancers after MOHS surgery. At Desert Bloom Plastic Surgery, we have helped patients of all ages, genders, and skin tones. Dr. Wallin has several treatment methods available to address varying tumor depths and locations. Our patients are strongly encouraged to continue seeing their dermatologist regularly to ensure the detection of potential cancer recurrences and the presence of new lesions.

Determining Recurrence Risk

Each type of skin cancer poses slightly different risks of recurrence. That said, it’s been proven that patients with any kind of skin cancer diagnosis have a significantly higher risk of another type developing. For instance, during the first two years after lesion removal, there’s a ten times higher chance of Basal Cell Carcinoma or Squamous Cell Carcinoma recurring in the surrounding tissue. This elevated risk is why routine follow-ups are so vital.

Dr. Wallin and our expert team are here if you need us. Below, we’ve broken down the various risks associated with common types of skin cancer. Together, we can protect your skin with confidence. If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

Basal Cell Carcinoma

After a basal cell carcinoma (BCC) treatment, it’s recommended patients complete skin examinations with a dermatologist every six to twelve months throughout the first five years. There’s still a relatively high risk of recurrence after this initial period, as such yearly examinations for the rest of your life are very important.

Tumors are more likely to return if they:

  • Have unclear borders.
  • Are large.
  • Have already recurred at least once.
  • Develop at the site of past radiation therapy.
  • Grow aggressively.
  • Surround a nerve.

The risk of BCC recurrence may also be higher if you take medications that weaken your immune system.

How you treat BCC also makes a big difference. MOHS surgery is safest, with five-year recurrence rates of 1% for a primary BCC and 5.6% for recurrent BCC. Be sure to talk to your doctor about the risk or recurrence when choosing a treatment type.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

For squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), most recurrences (70-80%) happen in the first two years. As such, patients should see a dermatologist every three to twelve months throughout the two years following treatment. In the following three years, its recommended patients schedule a follow up every six to twelve months. From this point on, yearly check-ups are very important.

Just like BCC, some SCC tumors are more likely to recur than others. SCC high-risk tumor characteristics include all those associated with BCC listed above, as well as:

  • If the tumor has grown around a lymph vessel, nerve, or blood vessel.
  • SCC subtypes as recorded by your doctor.
  • Thicker (≥2 millimeters) tumors.
  • Invasive tumors.
  • Undifferentiated or poorly differentiated cells.

Again, MOHS surgery is the preferred treatment method with the lowest 5-year recurrence rate of 3%. Other treatments, such as excisions, are highly successful. Depending on the level of risk, your doctor may recommend alternative methods.


Melanoma recurrence varies depending on the cancer’s stage and your personal risk factors. Your doctor will recommend a personalized treatment and follow-up schedule based on your stage and symptoms. In general, follow-ups are recommended:

  • Stage 0: Yearly appointments for life
  • Stage IA-IIA: Follow-ups spaced out six to 12 months for five years, followed by yearly examinations for life
  • Stage IIB-IV: Examinations spaced out three to 6 months for two years, then every three to 12 months for three years, followed by yearly examinations for life

Recurrence can happen near or at the original tumor, or in distant organs and the lymph nodes, and can occur years after your primary cancer. As Melanoma recurrence may happen even ten years after initial treatment, lifetime follow-ups are critical to ensuring your safety. The most significant risk factor for recurrence is the cancer stage of your initial melanoma. Early-stages recur less frequently, while later-stage melanoma recurs sooner and more often.

Treatment and Reducing Risks

If you’re hoping to reduce risks of recurrence, its recommended to perform self-exams monthly, carefully observing your entire body is an essential first line of defense. Your dermatologist can teach you to maximize efficacy. Daily UV protection is critical, including avoiding the sun altogether from 12-3 pm and wearing sunscreen every single day. Skin cancer is a serious condition and requires vigilance.

Dr. Wallin is an expertly trained and board-certified facial plastic surgeon with extensive experience performing MOHS reconstructions. Our team is here to work alongside you and your dermatologist to ensure your safety and long-term health. If you have any further questions or would like to learn more about skin cancer recurrence or plastic surgery after a MOHS procedure for skin cancer, your next step is to schedule a consultation in the clinic.

During this consultation, you’ll have a chance to get Dr. Wallin’s expert opinion and address all of your questions and concerns. To schedule your consultation, please give our St. George, UT office a call at (435) 627-8150 or contact us online today.