Types of skin cancer

There are three main types of skin cancer. This information is about the two most common types: basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. These are known as non-melanoma skin cancer. The third type of skin cancer is rarer. It is called malignant melanoma and needs to be treated as early as possible because it can grow quickly.

Basal cell carcinoma

About 75% of skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma, or BCC. Usually, BCCs are very slow-growing and don’t spread to other parts of the body. If they are treated early, most BCCs are completely cured.

Squamous cell carcinoma

The second most common type of skin cancer in the UK is squamous cell carcinoma, or SCC. Most people with SCC can be cured with simple treatment. Usually, SCCs are slow-growing and don’t spread to other parts of the body.

Other types

There are other, rarer types of skin cancer but they make up less than 3% of skin cancers in the UK.

Bowen’s disease is a skin condition. In a small number of people, Bowen’s disease that isn’t treated may develop into squamous cell cancer.

Different types of skin cancer

There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma. This section is about the two most common types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. These are known as non-melanoma skin cancer. The other main type of skin cancer is malignant melanoma, which is rarer. We have further information about melanoma.


Basal cell carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma, or BCC, is a cancer of the basal cells at the bottom of the epidermis. It is sometimes called a rodent ulcer. It’s very common. About 75 % of all skin cancers in the UK are BCCs. Most BCCs are very slow-growing and almost never spread to other parts of the body.

When BCCs are treated at an early stage, they are usually 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. This can make treatment difficult.

A small number of BCCs may come back in the same area of skin after treatment. This is known as a local recurrence.


Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma, or SCC, is a cancer of the keratinocyte cells in the outer layer of the skin. It’s the second most common type of skin cancer in the UK. Most people treated for SCC are completely cured with simple treatment. 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.


Malignant melanoma

This is a less common type of skin cancer than the two other types mentioned in this section. Melanoma behaves differently to basal cell and squamous cell cancers. It can grow quickly and needs to be treated early. This section does not cover melanoma, but we have separate information about it.


Rarer types of non-melanoma skin cancer


Bowen’s disease

Bowen’s disease is sometimes called squamous cell carcinoma in-situ. It’s caused by the abnormal growth of cells in the outer layer of the skin. These cells don’t spread into the deeper layers of the skin. If left untreated, Bowen’s disease may develop into squamous cell carcinoma. We have more information about Bowen’s disease.


Back to Understanding skin cancer

The skin

Your skin is made up of several different types of cell, including squamous cells and basal cells.

What is cancer?

There are more than 200 different kinds of cancer, each with its own name and treatment.

Why do cancers come back?

Sometimes, tiny cancer cells are left behind after cancer treatment. These can divide to form a new tumour.