There are a number of types of skin cancer
Although there are a number of skin cancers, there are 3 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 Carcinoma (BCC). BCCs 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 Carcinoma (SCC). 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 just 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 with 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 Carcinoma (SCC)
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is 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 Carcinoma present as scaly non-healing sore. If left unchecked a squamous cell carcinoma 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 carcinoma, 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 Carcinoma (BCC)
Basal Cell Carcinoma is 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 be sure to have any skin sore checked regularly..
Intra-epidermal Carcinoma (IEC)
Intra-epidermal Carcinoma (IEC) or sometimes know as Bowen’s Disease, is an early SCC with approximately 3 in 100 developing into this. It’s therefore also referred to as Squamous Cell Carcinoma in situ.
Similar to an SCC, IEC starts in the epidermis (the outer layer of skin) and is generally more superficial than SCC. Over time, however, and without treatment it can grow deeper, plant roots and may even metastasise.
Due to it’s appearance, Bowen’s Disease can easily be confused as eczema, psoriasis or even ring worm as it presents as red, scaly patches with irregular outlines.
Other skin cancers
There are a number of other ‘cancers’ involving the skin. They are technically not cancers but are malignancies and all respond well to superficial radiotherapy.
Other cancers affecting the skin:
- Karposi Sarcoma
- Mycosis Fungoides
- Atypical Fibroxanthoma