Different Types of Skin Cancer

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Different Types of Skin Cancer1,2,3

There are three types of skin cancer in order of gravity: melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and basal cell carcinoma. A complete description of each is provided below. Have a dermatologist thoroughly check your body once a year for skin cancer, and report suspicious moles immediately.


  • Arise from melanocytes (pigmented cells in the skin)
  • Can develop in or around lesions already on the skin or in healthy looking skin
  • Some types caused by UV radiation exposure although may also arise in unexposed areas of the skin
  • Easily curable if caught early before metastasis, however deadly if caught after metastasis

The characteristic symptoms of malignant melonoma are defined by ABCD (Asymmetry, Borders, Color, Diameter) criteria:

ABCD Criteria for Malignant Melanoma

A = Asymetry Halves do not match
B = Borders Edges are irregular or vague
C = Color Two or more colors are present
D = Diameter Larger than one quarter inch
Types of Skin Cancer

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

  • Arise from keratinocytes (skin cells)
  • Primarily caused by UV radiation (even at levels well below those that cause sunburn)
  • Typically slow growing although certain types may grow quickly
  • Most commonly seen at sun exposed sites (ears and lower lip) however can be found elsewhere (genitals)
  • Much higher risk of metastasis and death than basal cell carcinomas however less so than malignant melanomas

Basal Cell Carcinoma

  • Arise from Basal Cells (a different type of skin cell)
  • The most common type of skin cancer in humans and the least deadly
  • Appear on sun-exposed skin, slow growing, rarely metastasize
  • Flat, firm, pale area that is raised, translucent, pink/red, shiny/waxy and may bleed after minor injury

1. Tan WW. Malignant Melanoma. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/280245-overview: Medscape Reference; 2012.
2. Khalyl-Mawad J. Pathology of Squamous Cell Carcinoma and Bowen Disease. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1960631-overview#a30: Medscape Reference; 2012.
3. Bader RS. Basal Cell Carcinoma. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/276624-overview: Medscape Reference; 2012.