What are common types of skin cancer?

The most common warning sign of skin cancer is a change in your skin, so, the key to finding skin cancer is in knowing your skin. If you notice a spot or lump that is growing, bleeding or changing, a mole that is changing, or a dry, scaly rough patch, your dermatologist can identify the condition quickly.

When treated before it spreads, most skin cancers including melanoma, a type that can spread quickly, are curable when treated early.

Types of skin cancer

Actinic keratosis (AKs)

AKs is a type of precancerous growth that many people mistake for age spots. AKs can look like red, scaly growths.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)

BCC is the most common type of skin cancer, which often appears on skin that gets lots of sun, such as the face, scalp, neck, hands and arms. Basal cell carcinoma grows slowly, and may appear as a reddish patch of dry skin that will not heal, a flesh or pink colored pearl-shaped lump, a pimple that will not heal, a sore that bleeds, heals and returns, waxy-feeling scars, or hard-feeling white or yellow colored flat or sunken growth. Most basal cell carcinomas are very treatable.

Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans

DSFP is a relatively uncommon soft tissue cancer that starts on the skin and can invade deeper tissue. DFSP is a locally aggressive tumor with a high recurrence rate, but rarely spreads.


Melanoma is a serious type of skin cancer. It starts in skin cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes are what give skin its color. Melanoma can happen anywhere on the skin. Men usually get it on the part of the body between the shoulders and the hips called the trunk. They may also get it on their head or neck. Women usually get it on their arms and lower legs.

Sometimes melanoma may occur even on areas of the skin that are never exposed to sunlight. It may even occur in the eye, under a fingernail or toenail, or in the nose and sinuses, or in other parts of the body. Melanoma is a much less common than other types of skin cancer, however it is more likely to spread to other parts of the body.

Merkel cell carcinoma

This is a rare and aggressive form of skin cancer, but very lethal. MCC arises most often on sun-exposed areas in fair-skinned individuals over age 50, and especially those with a compromised immune system. It derives its name from the similarity of these cancer cells to normal Merkel cells (named for the scientist who discovered them) in the skin are thought to be associated with touch sensation.

Merkel cell carcinoma usually appears as a firm, painless lesion on a sun-exposed area. These tumors are typically red, blue or skin-colored and vary in size. Treatment is generally based on the stage of the disease. As with other cancers, the three major treatments for MCC are: surgical treatment of the primary lesion and any lymph nodes also indicated, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

Sebaceous carcinoma

This is an uncommon and aggressive skin cancer that develops anywhere on the body where there is a sebaceous gland that keeps the skin moist. Sebaceous carcinoma often begins on the eyelid and can begin as a stye, chalazion or pink eye that just will not go away.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)

SCC are also common forms of skin cancer and tend to form on skin that has been exposed to the sun for years, but it can appear in areas that have never been exposed. Too much is often the cause, but not the only cause of this type of skin cancer. SCC can also appear on skin that has been badly burned, had lots of radiation (such as x- rays) or was exposed to strong chemicals.

SCC is often a reddish color, with hard bumps or patches, open sores that itch and bleed, heal and return or scaly patches on the lip, skin on the lip that thickens. SCC can grow deeply and can spread. When found early and treated, it is curable.


Skin Cancer Treatments

Learn more about some of the many skin cancer treatments offered at Main Line Health.


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