What Are the Most Common Types of Skin Cancer?

There are several types of skin cancer, which are categorized by the types of cells that are affected. For instance, basal cell carcinoma develops in the round basal cells found just below the skin’s surface. Squamous cell carcinoma forms in the squamous cells that are shed from the skin’s outer layer as new cells form beneath them. Melanoma affects the melanocytes, which produce melanin (a skin-darkening pigment) in response to sun exposure. Merkel cell carcinoma damages the cells that give the skin its sense of touch.

The most common types of skin cancer

Listed in order from the most to least common, the main types of skin cancer are:

  • Basal cell carcinoma – By far the most frequently diagnosed type of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma usually results from sun exposure and tends to be slow-growing. Left untreated, however, the cancerous cells can potentially spread to nearby tissues.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma – Squamous cell cancers often appear on parts of the body that have been exposed to sunlight, such as the face, ears, neck and hands, but can also develop on scars, mucous membranes and genitals. As compared to basal cell carcinomas, these malignancies are slightly more likely to invade fatty tissues beneath the skin’s surface.
  • Melanoma – A relatively uncommon but serious type of cancer, melanoma may develop in areas of the body that are not exposed to the sun, such as the groin, eyes and bottoms of the feet. The cancerous cells may also spread to nearby lymph nodes and metastasize to distant parts of the body.
  • Merkel cell carcinoma – A rare and aggressive form of skin cancer, Merkel cell carcinoma may originate in sun-exposed areas of the body, such as the face and scalp, and then spread to the bones, lungs, liver or brain.

While all types of skin cancer require prompt medical attention, the treatment options and prognosis for each can vary widely. In the Cutaneous Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center, we offer multispecialty treatment for all types of malignant skin lesions in a single location, and we welcome patients with and without referrals. To request a consultation, call 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form online.