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Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are the two most common types of skin cancer. Around 90 percent of all cases of skin cancer are basal cell carcinomas. Melanoma is less common, more deadly, and more likely to spread throughout the body. Other less common types include cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, Kaposi's sarcoma, and Merkel cell carcinoma.

An Overview of Skin Cancer Types

Skin cancers are named for the type of cells that become cancerous. The two most common skin cancer types are basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer.
These types of skin cancer are often referred to as nonmelanoma skin cancer to differentiate them from a third type called melanoma. Melanoma is less common, more deadly, and more likely to spread throughout the body.

Basal Cell and Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Ninety percent of all skin cancers in the United States are basal cell carcinoma. This skin cancer type grows slowly and rarely spreads to other areas. Although basal cell carcinoma can occur anywhere, it is typically found on the:
  • Head
  • Face
  • Neck
  • Hands
  • Arms.
Squamous cell skin cancer also occurs on parts of the skin that have been in the sun, though it may be in places that are not in the sun. This type of skin cancer sometimes spreads to lymph nodes and organs inside the body.
Squamous cell carcinoma rarely spreads, but is more likely to do so than basal cell carcinoma. Despite a fatality rate of less than 1 percent, these cancers should be treated promptly, because they can invade and destroy nearby tissue.
It is estimated that nonmelanoma skin cancer is on the rise and that 1 million cases will occur each year. Exact numbers of these cases are not readily available because most are treated in doctors' offices and may not be reported to cancer registries.
Researchers estimate that 40 to 50 percent of people in the United States who live to age 65 will have nonmelanoma skin cancer at least once. The risk is highest for fair-skinned people with red or blond hair and light-colored eyes.
(Click Skin Cancer for more information.)
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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