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3 Types of Skin Cancer + Symptoms to Know + Best Treatment Options

Cancer— it’s a word no one ever wants to hear or be associated with. Unfortunately, each year the United States averages over 5 million incidences of non-melanoma skin cancer (among more than 3 million Americans) and an additional 100,000 cases of melanoma.

With the odds of developing skin cancer of some kind so high, it’s essential to know the steps you can take now to prevent, monitor, and address skin abnormalities whenever a risk arises.

Read on to learn more about the three skin cancer types, as well as skin cancer symptoms and treatment options for each type.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer that starts in the basal cells, which are responsible for producing new skin cells when others die off. Though it can appear in different forms, this kind of skin cancer usually looks like a transparent bump on the surface of your skin. It most often shows up on areas of the skin that receive the most sun exposure. Like other forms of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma is thought to occur as a result of DNA mutations due to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. This type of skin cancer includes a risk of recurrence, can increase your risk of developing other types of skin cancer, and can spread into your lymph nodes and other parts of the body if left untreated.


According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of basal cell carcinoma include:

  • A shiny, skin-colored bump

  • A brown, black or blue lesion

  • A flat, scaly patch with a raised edge

  • A white, waxy, scar-like lesion

Treatment Options

If a skin biopsy returns as cancerous, your doctor or specialist will seek to remove the lesion entirely. Basal cell carcinoma skin cancer treatment most often includes surgical excision, but the location of the cancer and other factors may require alternative treatments. Additional treatments for basal cell carcinoma include curettage and electrodesiccation (C and E), where the skin cancer is scraped and then seared with an electric needle, radiation therapy, freezing, photodynamic therapy, or with topical treatments. If you suspect you may have basal cell carcinoma, it is urgent that you schedule an appointment with your dermatologist.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma originates in the middle and outer layers of the skin. This type of skin cancer is common but usually not life-threatening. However, squamous cell carcinoma is aggressive and can spread to other parts of your body, so early detection is essential. This skin cancer type can be found in many places in your body and most likely results from exposure to dangerous UV rays.


The Mayo Clinic describes symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma as:

  • A firm red nodule

  • A flat sore with scaly crust

  • A new sore or raised area on an old scar or ulcer

  • A rough, scaly patch on your lip that evolves to an open sore

  • A red sore or rough patch inside your mouth

  • A red, raised patch or wartlike sore on or in the anus or on genitals

Treatment Options

For most instances of squamous cell carcinoma, skin cancer treatment will include minor surgery. For more complex cases, your doctor may use the C and E procedure, laser therapy, freezing, or photodynamic therapy. The largest squamous cell carcinomas may require more invasive treatment, such as simple excision, Mohs surgery (where the cancer is removed layer by layer, examining each layer for cancer as they go) or radiation therapy.


The most aggressive and deadly of the skin cancer types is melanoma, which develops in the skin cells that generate melanin.

While the exact cause of melanoma is unclear, studies show that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds increases your odds of developing this type of skin cancer.

Though there are over 9,000 deaths contributed to melanoma in the United States each year, it can be treated successfully if caught early.

It’s important to note that melanoma can occur in areas that have little to no exposure to the sun. Hidden melanomas can occur under your fingernails and toenails, in your mouth and digestive tract and even in your eyes.


According to the Mayo Clinic, melanoma symptoms include:

  • A change in an existing mole

  • Development of a new pigmented or unusual-looking growth on your skin

    • Use the ABCDE test to examine irregularities and identify melanoma:

      • A: asymmetrical shape

      • B: irregular border

      • C: changes in color

      • D: diameter of larger than ¼ inch (6 millimeters)

      • E: evolving shape, size, colors or condition over time

Treatment Options

After a skin biopsy results in a diagnosis of melanoma, your physician or skincare specialist will need to determine the stage of cancer it falls under. To stage the melanoma, the doctor will gauge its thickness, see if it has spread to your lymph nodes and looks for other signs of cancer that go beyond your skin. Tests such as x-rays, CT scans and PET scans can help determine the degree of spread.

Those with early-stage melanoma typically require surgery to remove the cancer entirely. If the melanoma has spread beyond the skin, you may need surgery to remove affected lymph nodes, as well as immunotherapy, radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, so be sure to monitor your skin frequently for any signs that emerge.

Preventing Skin Cancer

There are many steps you can take to prevent the development of all three skin cancer types. These steps include:

  • Avoiding sun exposure between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

  • Wearing sunscreen year-round, even on cloudy days and even when staying indoors

  • Wearing protective clothing

  • Avoiding tanning beds

  • Being familiar with your skin and frequently examining it for suspicious lesions

Recommended Sunscreen Products from the SoCo Derm Online Store:

The Bottom Line on Skin Cancer Prevention

Our skin is the external barrier that protects us from damage from harmful substances like pollution, bacteria and ultraviolet radiation. However, our skin is not invincible and needs proper care and maintenance to be able to continue serving as a healthy protective exterior.

Take the recommended steps listed above to prevent the development of skin cancer, identify suspicious skin abnormalities immediately when they arise and seek the treatment options that work best for the specific type of skin cancer.

If you suspect you have skin cancer on your face or any other areas of your body, it’s time to meet with a dermatologist. To schedule your annual skin exam or address current skin abnormalities, call (203) 323-5660 to speak with one of our dermatology specialists today.


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