Types of skin cancer
There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma.
Basal cell carcinoma, or BCC, is a cancer of the basal cells at the bottom of the epidermis. It’s very common and accounts for more than 75% of all skin cancers in the UK. Most BCCs are very slow-growing and almost never spread to other parts of the body. They often start as a small, red, shiny spot or nodule that may bleed occasionally.
In many BCCs, the skin over the top can remain intact for many months. Eventually they may develop into an ulcer that doesn’t heal. When BCCs are treated at an early stage, most of the time they are completely cured. However, some BCCs are aggressive, and if left to grow they may spread into the deeper layers of the skin and sometimes to the bones, making treatment difficult.
A small number of BCCs may also come back in the same area of skin after treatment. This is known as a local recurrence.
Squamous cell carcinoma
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Squamous cell carcinoma, or SCC, is a cancer of the cells (called keratinocytes) found in the outermost layer of the skin (the epidermis). It’s the second most common type of skin cancer in the UK. One in five skin cancers (20%) are this type. Usually squamous cell carcinomas are slow-growing and only spread to other parts of the body if they are left untreated for a long time. Occasionally though, they can behave more aggressively and spread at a relatively early stage. However, most people treated for SCC are completely cured with simple treatment.
This is a less common type of skin cancer than the two other types mentioned in this section. About 11,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with malignant melanoma each year. Melanoma behaves differently to basal cell and squamous cell cancers. It can grow quickly and needs to be treated early.
We have separate information on malignant melanoma.
Rarer types of non-melanoma skin cancer
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There are a number of other rare types of cancer that can occur in the skin:
These make up less than 1 in 100 (1%) of all skin cancers in the UK.
is a precancerous skin condition caused by abnormal cells growing in the epidermis. These cells are not invasive or malignant (cancerous). If left untreated, Bowen’s disease may develop into squamous cell carcinoma.