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Fitness icon Richard Simmons revealed he has been diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, a common form of skin cancer. Scott Roth/FilmMagic via Getty Images
  • Richard Simmons has shared his personal skin cancer journey publicly via social media.
  • The fitness guru was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer, after discovering a “strange-looking lump” under his eye.
  • Basal cell carcinoma is associated with sun exposure and commonly appears on the face, nose, and ears.

Fitness guru and cultural icon Richard Simmons revealed that he was recently diagnosed with skin cancer, specifically basal cell carcinoma.

Through a series of social media posts, he has documented his cancer journey so far. He is encouraging anyone with any unusual spots or blemishes on their body to see their doctor right away.

According to a social media post by Simmons, he initially identified a “strange-looking bump” under his right eye while looking in the mirror. After several days of attempting to treat the bump with an antibiotic ointment, he decided to see his doctor.

His doctor then performed a skin biopsy, which is when part of the skin is removed and tested for cancer. Simmons’ medical team determined that the spot under his eye was basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma is typically found on areas of the body with the most sun exposure, such as the face, ears, neck, arms, and backs of the hands.

Although common, it is also highly treatable. Basal cell carcinoma is frequently an “indolent” cancer, meaning that it grows very slowly and has a low chance of metastasizing, spreading to other areas of the body through the blood or lymph system.

Simmons received treatment soon after the biopsy, requiring three sessions to remove all of the cancer cells. It’s unclear from the post what specific kind of treatment Simmons received. He described the treatment as having his face “burned,” which could refer to one of several removal techniques for basal cell carcinoma, such as surgical removal, laser surgery, cryotherapy, and chemical peeling.

The treatment appears to have been a success, and Simmons is now encouraging people everywhere to pay attention to their skin and get checked out.

“I know some of you reading this have had cancer or have known someone in your life who has had cancer. Promise me you will see your doctor and get a complete checkup,” Simmons wrote.

Basal cell carcinoma can take on a variety of appearances but is most often found on areas of the body that get a lot of sun.

“His story is very common,” Dr. Anna S. Clayton, MD, an Associate Professor of Dermatology at Vanderbilt University, told Healthline.

“It’s the most common type of skin cancer and the most common place to get it is on the face. The most common place on the face is on the nose. It’s very much sun associated, although there are basal cell carcinomas that appear in places that you wouldn’t normally think,” she said.

In terms of visual appearance, basal cell carcinoma can range from a small bump, to more scar-like in appearance. Its color can also vary.

“It’s very common to see a pink or red shiny bump on the skin. Sometimes it can be scaly in darker skin types. It could also be purple or brown. So, it can have a variety of different appearances, but in general, the color spectrum will be from white to kind of a purple-ish brown,” said Dr. Silvina Pugliese, MD, a Clinical Associate Professor of Dermatology at Stanford Medicine.

Importantly, basal cell carcinoma may not have identifiable symptoms such as pain or discomfort, irritation, or bleeding. In some cases, it may appear as a sore that bleeds or weeps, though this isn’t always the case.

“We usually tell patients that if they have a pimple or a sore that doesn’t go away in a few months, or if it goes away and comes back, or if it’s getting bigger, that’s a reason to see your dermatologist,” said Clayton.

There are several forms of skin cancer, but basal cell carcinoma is the most common. Other varieties include squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

“Basal cell carcinoma is a cancer of the cells at the bottom of the epidermis (the ‘basal’ layer) – these cells are responsible for replacing the dead cells that slough off regularly during washing, scratching, etc.,” Dr. Christina Annunziata, MD, PhD, the Senior Vice President of Extramural Discovery Science at the American Cancer Society, told Healthline.

Squamous cell carcinoma, on the other hand, affects the squamous cell layer, which is located above the basal layer, in the thickest part of the epidermis.

Melanoma starts in the third major cell type of the epidermis, known as melanocytes. Melanocytes are responsible for making the skin pigment melanin, which gives skin its brown color and helps prevent damage to the skin from the sun.

Both squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma are less common than basal cell carcinoma.

Surgical removal of basal and squamous cell skin cancers is common. However, the specific surgery can differ from patient to patient.

Nonsurgical treatment options for basal cell carcinoma include topical chemotherapy (creams that can be applied directly to the skin); chemical peeling, in which an acid is applied directly to the skin, causing the skin cells to peel away; laser surgery, which is used to burn away the top layer of the skin; cryotherapy, which freezes and kills skin cells; and immune response modifiers, drugs that boost the body’s immune response against cancer cells.

Basal cell carcinoma is associated with sun exposure, so the best prevention is limiting time in the sun and using sunscreen when outdoors.

“Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen. Watch the sun protection,” said Clayton.

Annunziata also adds that clothing is an essential part of sun protection.

Clothing will only protect what it can cover, so long-sleeved shirts and pants offer the most protection. Dark colors also provide more sun protection than light ones. Other items to consider include UV-protection sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats, and shoes.

For sunscreen, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends a broad spectrum (protects against both UVA and UVB rays) formulation that is SPF 30 or higher and water resistant.

Just as important to prevention is regular screening and seeing a doctor if anything seems out of the ordinary. At-home skin self-exams and screenings are easy to do with two mirrors and can give you and your doctor insight into any noticeable changes in your skin.

Always talk with your doctor if anything seems abnormal, new, or getting larger.

“Hopefully this leads people to be aware that they should just be doing a little screen of spots on their skin on a somewhat regular basis. If anything seems suspicious, they don’t have to be skin experts. They can always call their doctor and have these spots evaluated. That’s what we do in dermatology,” said Pugliese.

Richard Simmons was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer.

He is encouraging everyone to speak with their doctor if they notice any changes to their skin, particularly bumps, and blemishes that do not heal or go away.

Basal cell carcinoma is highly treatable through a variety of means, including surgical removal, laser therapy, and topical chemotherapy.