About types of skin cancer

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

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)

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 is very common. About 75% (75 in 100) 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. Nearly everyone with a BCC who has treatment is completely cured.

Occasionally some BCCs are aggressive, and, if left to grow, 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 (SCC)

Squamous cell carcinoma, or SCC, is a cancer of the cells in the outer layer of the skin. It is the second most common type of skin cancer in the UK. Most people treated for SCC are completely cured. Usually, SCCs are slow-growing. They only spread to other parts of the body if they are left untreated for a long time. Occasionally, they can behave more aggressively and spread at an earlier stage.

Malignant melanoma

This is a less common type of skin cancer. Melanoma behaves differently to BCC and SCC. It can grow quickly and needs to be treated early. We have separate information about malignant melanoma.

Rarer types of non-melanoma skin cancer

There are some other rare types of skin cancer. These are:

Less than 1% (1 in 100) of all skin cancers in the UK are these rarer types of skin cancer.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our skin cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    Motley et al. British Association of Dermatologists. Management of the patient with primary cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. 2009.

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). NG12: Suspected cancer: recognition and referral. 2015 (updated 2017).

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). NG134: Sunlight Exposure: Benefits and Risks. 2016.

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). PH32: Skin Cancer Prevention. 2011 (updated 2016).

    Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN) 140. Management of primary cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. 2014.

    Telfar N et al. Guidelines for the management of basal cell carcinoma. British Journal of Haematology. 2008.


  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Professor James Larkin, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.