Skip To The Main Content

Understanding the Types of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is cancer that begins in the cells of the skin. The cancer usually results from sun damage to the skin. There are three main types of skin cancer. They are listed from most common to most to least common:

  • Basal cell carcinoma. This cancer begins in basal cells in the deepest part of the epidermis, which is the top layer of the skin. It is the most common type of skin cancer. This cancer does not often cause death. It grows slowly and rarely spreads to other parts of the body. It is usually found on parts of the body that are exposed to the sun, such as the face, scalp, nose, legs, and upper back. A basal cell carcinoma tumor is usually raised from the skin and looks pearly.

cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinomas form in places exposed to the sun and look raised and pearly.

  • Squamous cell carcinoma. This begins in squamous cells. It is the second most common type of skin cancer. It can be cured in most cases. Sometimes it can spread to other parts of the body. Like basal cell carcinoma, it is usually found on skin that is exposed to the sun. However, it can also be found in places that have not been exposed to the sun. People who have had a lot of skin damage over a longer period of time have a higher chance of getting squamous cell carcinoma.

cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinomas may form in places exposed to the sun, or on other places.

  • Melanoma. This cancer begins in melanocytes of the skin. These are cells that give skin its color. This is the least common skin cancer, but the most deadly. Melanoma can also begin in your fingernails, eyes, mouth, rectum, or vagina. That’s because melanocytes are also located there.

Your doctor finds the type of skin cancer you have from taking a biopsy. The type you have determines your choices for treatment. Basal and squamous cell make up a large majority of skin cancer cases. They are considered slow growing and don’t tend to spread.

Anatomy of the skin
Click Image to Enlarge


MetroWest Medical Center provides advanced medicine and personalized care, right here in your community.

Click here to see our services 


The Center for Heart & Vascular Services. At the forefront of heart and vascular disease for more than 25 years.

Learn More