There are a number of types of skin cancer
Although there are a number of skin cancers, there are three that need special mention because they are the most common types of skin cancer.
The most dangerous skin cancer is melanoma. It does not occur as often as the other skin cancers, but missing a melanoma diagnosis may be fatal.
The most common skin cancer is a Basal cell cancer. Basal cell cancers hardly ever spread but they can cause mischief, often the part you see is only the tip of the iceberg.
The most lethal skin cancer is a squamous cell cancer. These cancers occur regularly, they do spread and, if left unattended, can be fatal. They account for most skin cancer related deaths.
Other skin cancers are relatively rare but remain important when they do occur. Find out more about each skin cancer by clicking the box below
Melanoma is an aggressive cancer of the pigmented cells in the skin called melanocytes. They grow quickly and spread early. Melanomas are brown to black pigmented skin lesions and can occur anywhere on the body. They are not only confined to sun exposed areas. Any newly pigmented skin lesion or change in a pigmented skin lesion such as a mole should be investigated urgently. If there is a family history of melanoma a regular visit to the skin doctor is essential.
Melanomas do not always have to be pigmented and sometimes an amelanotic (non pigmented) melanoma is missed. Because of this always seek medical attention to a changing skin lesion or a skin sore that is not healing.
Melanomas require specialised care and the treatment is always surgery. Sometimes radiation therapy should be considered after surgery.
Squamous cell cancer
Squamous cell cancers are formed in the top protective layer of the skin called the epidermis. The skin is an active growth area, with old skin cells constantly being replaced as they age.
This process of regular skin growth can go wrong. Chronic sun exposure, exposure to toxins such as arsenic or immunosuppression can all contribute to the deregulation of the skin regeneration process. When this results in uncontrolled growth it is a cancer.
Squamous cell cancer presents as scaly non-healing sore. If left unchecked squamous cell cancers will grow into the skin, spread along the lymphatic channels to the nearest lymph-nodes and eventually spread to other organs.
The prognosis is excellent for early squamous cell cancers, but drops when lymph–nodes are involved. These cancers are incurable once they have spread to distant organs.
Early treatment is very important in curing these cancers.
Basal cell cancer
These cancers are the most common skin cancers and occur mostly in sun-damaged skin. They can have a number of clinical presentations ranging from a red patch on the skin to a small sore with a central ulcer or a firm nodule in the skin.
Because they grow slowly they can easily be ignored. They have a varied clinical presentation so have any skin sore checked regularly to be sure it is not a basal cell cancer.
Other skin cancers
There are a number of other ‘cancers’ involving the skin. They are technically not cancers but are malignancies and they all respond well to superficial radiotherapy.
Other cancers affecting the skin:
- Karposi Sarcoma
- Mycosis Fungoides
- Atypical Fibroxanthoma