- Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the skin.
- Cancer that only affects cells in the skin’s top layer is called superficial cancer.
- Cancer that spreads deeply into the skin or to other parts of the body is known as invasive cancer.
What types are there?
There are two main types of non-melanoma skin cancer:
- basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
- squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).
There are other rare skin cancers, such as those that start in the sweat glands and hair follicles.
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
- 70% of non-melanoma skin cancers.
- Commonly develops on the head, neck and upper body.
- May appear as a pearly lump or a scaly or dry area that is pale or pink in colour.
- May bleed and become inflamed, and dead tissue may slough off (ulcerate). Some BCCs heal then break down again.
BCCs tend to grow slowly and don’t usually spread to other parts of the body.
If BCC is left untreated or grows larger than 5 cm, it may grow deeper into the skin and damage nearby tissue. This may make treatment more difficult and increase the chance of the BCC returning.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
- 30% of non-melanoma skin cancers.
- Usually appears on areas of the skin that are most often exposed to the sun, such as the head, neck, hands, forearms or lower legs.
- Often appears as a thickened, red, scaly lump.
- May look like a sore that hasn’t healed.
SCCs tend to grow quickly over several weeks or months.
It is possible for SCCs to spread to other parts of the body – SCC on the lips, ears, scalp or temples has a high risk of spreading and should be seen by a doctor immediately.
Early skin cancer is sometimes called squamous cell carcinoma in-situ or Bowen’s disease. The SCC cells are confined to the epidermis, and they usually appear as a red scaly patch.
This information was last reviewed in Content updated March 2011
This information has been reviewed by: Dr Andrew Satchell, Dermatologist, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Dubbo Dermatology; Irena Brozek, Research and Development Officer – Sun, Cancer Council NSW; Neva Sperling, Consumer; Monica Tucker, Cancer Information Consultant, Cancer Council Helpline; and Margaret Whitton, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Department of Dermatology, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.View our editoral policy