Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer
Other types of skin cancer are referred to as nonmelanoma skin cancers. The two most common types are called basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer.
Basal Cell Cancer
Basal cell cancer starts in the lowest part of the epidermis, in round cells called basal cells. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. It occurs in about 800,000 - 900,000 people every year. However, this cancer is far less likely to be fatal than melanoma. The death rate from nonmelanoma skin cancers has dropped about 30% over the past 30 years.
Basal cell cancer usually develops later in life in areas that have received the most sun exposure, such as the head, neck, back, and especially the nose. However, some basal cell cancers appear in areas not exposed to the sun.
Basal cell cancers have many different appearances:
- They usually appear as a round area of thickened skin that does not change color or cause pain or itching.
- Very slowly, the lesion spreads out and develops a slightly raised edge, which may be translucent and smooth. Rarely, basal cell cancers have a similar color to malignant melanomas.
- Eventually, the center becomes hollowed and covered with a thin skin, which can become sore and open.
- A form known as aggressive-growth basal cell cancer looks like a scar with a hard base. This type of cancer is more likely to spread and must be treated very aggressively.
Review Date: 07/04/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.