Types Of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the growth of abnormal, cancerous cells in the skin. The types of skin cells affected determine the various skin cancer types. Skin cancers are further classified as melanoma or non-melanoma skin cancer types.

The skin is made up of three layers: the epidermis (upper layer), dermis (middle layer) and subcutaneous layer (lowest level). The three most common types of skin cancer cell types are all part of the epidermis. Skin cancers affecting the epidermis are likely to appear in areas of the body receiving the most sun exposure.

Different Cells, Different Cancers

Basal cell carcinoma (basal cancer) affects the skin in the lower level of the epidermis, the basal cells. It is the most common type of skin cancer. This non-melanoma skin cancer develops on skin that gets frequent sun exposure. These lesions appear as waxy-looking raised bumps that are pink in color.

Squamous cell carcinoma, another common non-melanoma skin cancer, affects the cells in the middle layer of the epidermis, called squamous cells. It also appears in skin areas frequently exposed to the sun. Squamous skin cancer lesions appear rough and scaly.

Melanoma is the least common form of skin cancer, but it’s also the most dangerous. It affects the melanocytes, the cells that are responsible for producing pigment in the skin. A combination of environmental and genetic factors can cause melanoma. Melanoma skin cancer lesions are darkly pigmented, and may look like moles with irregular borders or coloration.

Actinic keratosis is a precancerous growth, most often the result of sun exposure, which presents as a rough scaly area on the skin. It tends to appear on the exposed skin of the arms and face. Actinic keratosis can develop into squamous cell carcinoma.

Other Skin Cancer Types

Other types of skin cancer include:

    • Kaposi sarcoma, affecting the cells lining lymph or blood vessels
    • Merkel cell carcinoma (also called neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin), affecting another type of cell at the base of the epidermis
    • Sebaceous gland carcinoma, affecting the oil glands
    • T-cell lymphoma of the skin, affecting the lymphocytes or immune cells in the skin.

These four types are rare and account for a very small percentage of diagnosed cases of skin cancer.

Skin Cancer Survival

Melanoma is by far the most dangerous type of skin cancer. Though it is less common that non-melanoma skin cancer, it is responsible for most skin cancer deaths. All types of skin cancer are more easily cured when they’re detected early. Melanoma survival rates are highest when treatment begins in the early stages of the disease.


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