Skin Cancer Basics

6 Kinds of Skin Cancer and Their Symptoms

Amy Tudor Sep 27th, 2012 (updated Jul 7th, 2016)
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Skin cancer has many forms
Skin cancer has many forms

What many people don't realize is that there are different forms of skin cancer with different symptoms and risk factors. Some of these cancers even attack certain parts of the body more frequently, making areas such as the eyes, ears, and forehead more at risk.

In this slideshow, we will look at six of the most common types of skin cancer, their symptoms, and the body areas most at risk for developing each type.

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Basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma is most common--and treatable--type of skin cancer. In fact, it is the most common type of cancer, affecting about 2 million people every year. It is often found on areas of the body that have been consistently exposed to sun such as the scalp, face, and ears.

Basal cell carcinoma will often appear as a flat lesion on the skin that may be brown, reddish, or flesh colored. It may also look like a waxy or pearl-colored bump on the skin.

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Squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma arises in the squamous cells on the top-most layer of the skin. It is most often seen on the lips, ears, nose, hands, or other sun-exposed areas of skin, and it often appears as a firm, red bump or nodule on the skin or a flat lesion with a crusted or scaly surface.

Squamous cell carcinoma is found twice as often in men than women. A person's risk also increases if he or she has already had a basal cell carcinoma.

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Melanoma
Melanoma

Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. If left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the body and can be fatal. Fortunately, if melanoma is identified and treated early, it is almost always curable. It is more common on the trunk, head, and neck in men and on the lower legs in women. It may appear as a large brownish spot with darker freckles, or in a mole that changes in color or size or bleeds. 

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Kaposi's sarcoma
Kaposi's sarcoma

Kaposi's sarcoma is a rare type of skin cancer that most often affects people who have compromised immune systems such as AIDS patients or people who are taking drugs to suppress their natural immune response. It can also arise in people of Mediterranean ancestry.

Kaposi's sarcoma attacks the skin's blood vessels and appears as raised purple or red patches on the skin or mucous membranes.

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Merkel cell carcinoma
Merkel cell carcinoma

Merkel cell carcinoma is another type of skin cancer that is linked to sun exposure. It most often manifests as firm, shiny, painless nodules on the skin or in hair follicles on the arms, legs, head, or neck. The bumps are usually blue, red, or pink.

This type of cancer is uncommon, which is good news since it is a highly aggressive form of skin cancer with high rates of metastatic spread and death.

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Sebaceous gland carcinoma
Sebaceous gland carcinoma

Sebaceous gland carcinoma is a rare and aggressive type of skin cancer that arises in the oil glands of the skin. It can occur anywhere on the body, but it most frequently found on the eyelids where it is often mistaken for other benign eyelid conditions.

This type of skin cancer appears as a hard, painless nodule or bump on the skin.