Skin Cancer

Types of skin cancer

Learn more about the three main types of skin cancer – melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

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Posted 19/10/18

If detected early, all types of skin cancer can be treated. However, if left untreated, skin cancers such as melanoma can spread and become life-threatening. This is why we recommend having a regular, thorough skin check by professionals, ideally every year – and checking your skin yourself at least every three months.

Three types of skin cancer

There are three main types of skin cancer – melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Types Of Skin Cancer Melanoma

Above: Melanoma comes in many different forms and is the most dangerous of the three types of skin cancer

Melanoma

Melanoma is the most serious of the three types of skin cancer – it can spread very quickly and once it penetrates below the surface of the skin it can become deadly. Survival rate is largely dependent on the thickness (depth) of melanoma.

A person with a melanoma less than 0.75mm thick can expect to have 95% cure rate1. If left until greater than 4mm thick, the cure rate is less than 55%2, which is why it’s so vital to detect melanoma early. Find out more about how to spot melanoma here.

If you’re concerned you might have melanoma, book a skin check today.

Types Of Skin Cancer Basal Cell Carcinoma 3

Above: Basal cell carcinoma is the least deadly of the three types of skin cancer - like melanoma it can also present itself in different forms

Basal cell carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common cancer in the world and it tends to be slow growing. While it is very common, particularly in countries like Australia and New Zealand, very few people die from BCC as it’s usually treatable – again, as long as it it detected early3.

Basal cell carcinomas start in basal cells, which are located in the lower layers of the skin. Often, they appear as a change in the skin, such as a growth or a sore that doesn’t heal. BCCs tend to occur on the face, ears, neck, back of the hands, arms and shoulders. They’re particularly common in older males, but they can also affect females and younger adults.

Long-term sun damage is a risk factor, and so is repeated sunburn or sunbed use. Having fair skin increases your risk, although it can also affect those with darker skin too.

What are the signs of basal cell carcinoma?

Symptoms of BCC may include:

  • waxy small raised lesions (papules) with a depressed centre
  • Ulcer-like appearance or pearl-like and translucent
  • A tendency to bleed
  • Red and scaly, oozing or crusted areas
  • Raised borders
  • Black-blue or brown areas

They can vary in size from a few millimetres to several centimetres in diameter.

If you’re concerned you might have BCC, book a skin check to find out.

Types Of Skin Cancer Squamous Cell Carcinoma 2

Above: Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common of the types of skin cancer

Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common skin cancer. It’s not usually life-threatening, but it can be more dangerous than basal cell carcinoma, because of its ability to grow bigger and/or spread to other parts of the body if left untreated.

SCC is a common form of skin cancer that develops in the squamous cells (which make up the middle and outer layers of the skin). It most often occurs on sun-exposed skin, such as your scalp, the backs of your hands, your ears or your lips, but it can occur anywhere on your body.

Most SCC result from prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, either from sunlight or from using sunbeds, so avoiding UV light helps reduce your risk.

What are the signs of squamous cell carcinoma?

Symptoms include:

  • A firm, red nodule
  • A flat sore with a scaly crust
  • A new sore or raised area on an old scar or ulcer
  • A rough, scaly patch on your lip that may evolve to an open sore
  • A red sore or rough patch inside your mouth
  • A red, raised patch or wartlike sore on or in the anus or on the genitals

Not sure if you have SCC? Call our trained team on 0800 665 3652 and describe your symptoms as accurately as possible.

Risk Factors Types Of Skin Cancer

What’s your risk factor?

We all have different levels of skin cancer and melanoma risk, depending on many factors such as our age, skin colour, family history and lifestyle. These include:

  • A family or personal history of melanoma or other skin cancer
  • Having major sunburns
  • Using sunbeds
  • Fair skin, blue eyes and blond or red hair
  • An outdoor lifestyle, spending a lot of time in the sun

Check your risk personal factor here.

What steps can you take to prevent skin cancer?
First of all, make sure you protect your skin when you’re outside. Avoid sunburn by staying out of the harshest sunlight in the middle of the day (10am to 4pm in daylight savings months) and covering up with a broad-spectrum SPF30+ sunscreen, loose clothing, a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses when you’re out and about.

Get in the habit of checking your skin regularly – every three months at least. Get to know your skin like the back of your hand (literally!) and use a hand-held mirror to check all areas, freckles and moles – or even better, get someone to check those hard-to-reach spots for you.

And remember, early detection is your best protection against all types of skin cancer. If you discover any changes, or are concerned by any moles or sunspots, see your doctor or book a skin check with MoleMap as soon as possible.

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Sources: 1&2 TBA 3. Dermnet NZ: https://dermnetnz.org/topics/basal-cell-carcinoma/