Skin Cancer—Overview

(Basal Cell Carcinoma; Squamous Cell Carcinoma)


Skin cancer is when cancer cells grow in the skin.The two most common kinds of skin cancer are:
  • Basal cell carcinoma —Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. This cancer usually grows slowly and rarely spreads to other tissues in the body.Basal cell carcinoma is rarely fatal but it can cause damage to the nearby tissue. If there is risk of damage, the cancer may need treatment or removal.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma —Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer.The cancer develops in the uppermost layer of skin cells. Squamous cell carcinoma usually grows slowly. It is rarely fatal if treated early. However, the cancer can be lethal if it spreads beyond the skin.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
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It is important that skin cancers be found and treated early. If left untreated, they can quickly invade and destroy nearby tissue.


Cancer occurs when skin cells in the body divide without control or order. When cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms. This is called a growth or tumor. Unlike benign tumors, malignant tumors can invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body.

Risk Factors

Basal and squamous cell cancers are more common in men and in people over 50 years old. These cancers are most likely to occur in people with:
  • Fair skin that freckles easily
  • Red or blonde hair
  • Light-colored eyes
  • Caucasian skin
Other factors that increase your risk of skin cancer include:
  • Personal history of skin cancer
  • Exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun or artificial radiation from a tanning bed
  • Excessive sun exposure without protective clothing or sunscreen
  • Skin damage from burns or infections
  • Exposure to arsenic, industrial tar, coal, paraffin, and certain types of oil
  • Radiation therapy treatment
  • Light treatments for psoriasis , especially psoralen ultraviolet A (PUVA)
  • Having a weak immune system due to illness or medications
  • Certain genetic diseases, such as basal cell nevus syndrome or xeroderma pigmentosum

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