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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% of all skin cancers in the UK (75 in 100) 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, though, 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:

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

Back to Understanding skin cancer

What is cancer?

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

The skin

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

Why do cancers come back?

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