10 main types of skin cancer

Introduction to Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer globally, affecting millions of people each year. It develops when abnormal cells in the skin grow out of control, forming malignant tumors. There are various types of skin cancer, each with its own characteristics, causes, and treatment approaches.

Understanding the Types of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer can be broadly classified into three main types: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Additionally, there are several other less common types of skin cancer, each with its unique features and presentations.

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most prevalent form of skin cancer, typically arising in the basal cells of the epidermis, the skin’s outermost layer. It often develops on areas of the skin exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck, and hands. BCC usually appears as a shiny, translucent bump or a pinkish patch of skin that may bleed easily or develop a crust. While it tends to grow slowly and rarely spreads to other parts of the body, untreated BCC can cause disfigurement and local tissue damage.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) originates in the squamous cells that make up the skin’s middle and outer layers. It often develops on sun-exposed areas such as the face, ears, neck, and hands, but can also arise from pre-existing scars, burns, or chronic wounds. SCC typically presents as a firm, red nodule or a flat, scaly lesion with irregular borders. Unlike BCC, SCC has a higher propensity to invade nearby tissues and metastasize to lymph nodes or other organs, especially if left untreated.


Melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer, arising from melanocytes, the pigment-producing cells in the skin. It can occur on any part of the body, including areas not exposed to the sun. Melanoma often presents as an asymmetrical mole or lesion with irregular borders, variegated colouration, and a diameter larger than 6 millimetres. Early detection is critical, as melanoma has a high potential to metastasize to distant organs, leading to poor outcomes if not treated promptly.

Merkel Cell Carcinoma (MCC)

Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare and aggressive type of skin cancer that develops in Merkel cells, which are located in the top layer of the skin. MCC typically appears as a painless, firm, flesh-coloured or bluish-red nodule on the skin, often on sun-exposed areas such as the head, neck, and limbs. It grows rapidly and can metastasize to nearby lymph nodes and other organs, making early diagnosis and treatment essential for improving outcomes.

Cutaneous Lymphoma (CL)

Cutaneous lymphoma is a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that primarily affects the skin. It arises from lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, and can manifest as various skin lesions, including patches, plaques, nodules, or tumors. Cutaneous lymphoma may mimic other benign skin conditions, making diagnosis challenging. Treatment options depend on the subtype and stage of the disease and may include topical medications, phototherapy, radiation therapy, or systemic therapies such as chemotherapy or targeted agents.

Dermatofibrosarcoma Protuberans (DFSP)

Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans (DFSP) is a rare type of soft tissue sarcoma that originates in the dermis, the skin’s middle layer. It typically presents as a firm, raised mass that may be pink, red, or purple in color. DFSP tends to grow slowly but can invade surrounding tissues, including muscle and fat, if not treated promptly. Surgical removal with wide margins is the primary treatment, although additional therapies such as radiation therapy or targeted therapy may be used in certain cases.

Actinic Keratosis (AK)

Actinic keratosis (AK), also known as solar keratosis, is a precancerous skin lesion that arises due to prolonged sun exposure. It appears as rough, scaly patches on sun-exposed areas such as the face, scalp, hands, and arms. While AK itself is not cancerous, it can progress to squamous cell carcinoma if left untreated. Treatment options include cryotherapy (freezing), topical medications, chemical peels, photodynamic therapy, or surgical removal.

Kaposi Sarcoma (KS)

Kaposi sarcoma (KS) is a type of cancer that develops from the cells lining blood vessels or lymphatic vessels. It often presents as purplish or reddish-brown lesions on the skin or mucous membranes, but can also affect internal organs in more advanced cases. KS is most commonly associated with human herpesvirus 8 (HHV-8) infection and is more prevalent in individuals with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS or organ transplant recipients.

Sebaceous Gland Carcinoma (SGC)

Sebaceous gland carcinoma (SGC) is a rare and aggressive malignancy that arises from the sebaceous glands, which are located in the skin’s deeper layers and produce sebum, the skin’s natural oil. It most commonly affects the eyelids but can also occur in other areas of the face, scalp, or trunk. SGC often presents as a painless, slow-growing nodule or lump that may be mistaken for a benign cyst or chalazion. Surgical excision with wide margins is the primary treatment, with additional therapies such as radiation therapy or systemic treatments reserved for advanced or metastatic disease.


In conclusion, understanding the various types of skin cancer is crucial for early detection, diagnosis, and appropriate management. While some types, such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, are more common and less aggressive, others like melanoma and Merkel cell carcinoma pose a significant risk of metastasis and mortality if not detected and treated early. Regular skin examinations, sun protection measures, and prompt evaluation of suspicious lesions are key strategies for reducing the burden of skin cancer and improving patient outcomes.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q1. Are all types of skin cancer caused by sun exposure?

A1. While sun exposure is a significant risk factor for many types of skin cancer, not all skin cancers are directly linked to UV radiation. For instance, melanoma can develop in areas of the body not exposed to the sun, such as the palms, soles, or mucous membranes.

Q2. Can skin cancer be hereditary?

A2. While most cases of skin cancer are caused by environmental factors such as sun exposure, genetics may also play a role in predisposing individuals to certain types of skin cancer. People with a family history of melanoma or other skin cancers may have an increased risk of developing the disease themselves.

Q3. How often should I perform self-examinations for skin cancer?

A3. It is recommended to perform monthly self-examinations of the skin to check for any new or changing lesions. Look for any changes in size, shape, color, or texture of moles or other skin growths, and consult a dermatologist if you notice anything suspicious.

Q4. What are the treatment options for advanced skin cancer?

A4. Treatment options for advanced or metastatic skin cancer may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, or a combination of these modalities. The choice of treatment depends on factors such as the type and stage of cancer, overall health, and individual preferences.

Q5. How can I protect myself from skin cancer?

A5. You can reduce your risk of skin cancer by practising sun-safe behaviours such as wearing sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, seeking shade during peak sun hours, wearing protective clothing