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There are Three Kinds of Skin Cancer

1. Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of cancer in humans. Luckily, it is very rarely a threat to life. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC or rodent ulcer) typically affects people of fair complexion who have had a lot of sun exposure, or repeated episodes of sunburn. The tendency to develop BCCs may be inherited. BCCs can vary in size from a few millimeters to several centimeters in diameter. They usually grow slowly over months or years.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal Cell Carcinoma


Nodular BCC is often found on the face. It presents as a small translucent growth, often with rolled edges. It may be pigmented (brown), or there may be small blood vessels on the surface. It may become an open sore (ulcer), or bleed spontaneously then seem to heal over.

Superficial BCCs are often multiple, most often on the upper trunk or shoulders. They are shiny pink or red slightly scaly patches.

Morphoeic BCCs are the most difficult to diagnose, and difficult to get rid of. They look like a skin-coloured, rather waxy, thickened scar.

2. Squamous Cell Skin Cancer

Squamous cell skin cancer is more aggressive and usually grows faster than basal cell. It must be excised with wider margins. It tends to ulcerate and left untreated may metastasize to local lymph nodes. It is curable by adequate excision and is treated the same way as the basal cell cancer.

Squamous Cell Skin Cancer

Squamous Cell Skin Cancer

Actinic Keratoses - Pre-Skin Cancer: Actinic Keratoses are skin lesions resulting from cumulative sun damage. They appear as small red patches with a thin scaly crust. AKs may develop into skin cancers over time or indicate skin that is prone to the development of skin cancers. This superficial condition can be treated by removal of the top layers of the skin using liquid nitrogen ("freezing") , TCA acid peel, laser resurfacing, or Efudex a prescription cream which specifically attacks AKs when used as directed over a 2-4 week period.

3. Melanoma

Melanoma is a serious skin cancer which is curable if detected early.

Melanoma grows from pigment cells (melanocytes) in the outer layer of the skin and mucous membranes (epidermis). Although melanoma usually starts as a skin lesion, occasionally it occurs in other parts of the body such as the eye, mouth or vagina. Melanoma tends to spread out within the epidermis before moving into the deeper layer of the skin (the dermis). It can occur in adults of any age. Melanoma is common in people aged 50-70. Occasionally it can occur in teenagers but it is almost unheard of in children. Unfortunately, many people die each year of melanoma, but many more are treated successfully. About one in fifteen white-skinned people will develop melanoma in their lifetime.



The first sign of a melanoma is usually a change in a freckle or mole, or a new spot on the skin. A melanoma often looks like an unusual freckle with an irregular edge. It may have a variety of colours including brown, black, blue, red and, occasionally, light grey.

An early melanoma is normally flat but it may later become raised. Other signs are a spot, freckle or mole which is itchy or tender, or bleeds or has a crust. Melanomas can occur anywhere on the body, not only in areas that get a lot of sun.

If your doctor suspects you have a melanoma, it should be removed and sent to a laboratory for examination under a microscope (histology). If you have a melanoma, the doctor should examine your whole body to see if any cancer cells have spread to other areas and whether you have any more melanomas. Other tests are not usually needed.

The thickness of a melanoma is measured in millimeters (from the top to the deepest point it has reached). Death is unlikely if a melanoma is less than 0.70 mm thick. About half the patients are dead within 5 years if the melanoma is more than 4 mm thick.

A melanoma is also classed by the level of the skin it has reached. The earliest melanoma, known as Level I, is confined to the epidermis. Invasive melanomas are described from Levels II to V, depending on how far they have invaded deeper levels of skin.

There are different types of melanoma. The most common type, a superficial spreading melanoma, starts as a flat, freckle-like spot which first spreads out sideways in the skin. Other types include nodular, acral, lentigo maligna, and amelanotic melanoma.

Staging refers to how far the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. A Stage I melanoma is an early cancer that is limited to the skin.

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Date of Last Update: 07/27/12