Common Types of Skin Cancer
If you have skin cancer, knowing which type is important because it will affect your treatment options. Skin cancers often form on skin that has been exposed to the sun, including on your head, face, neck, hands, and arms, but skin cancer can occur anywhere.
There are three major types of skin cancers:
- Basal cell carcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma
The first two skin cancers are grouped together as nonmelanoma skin cancers. Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer.
Nonmelanoma Skin Cancers
Basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer are the two most common types of skin cancer and are named after the type of cells that become cancerous. These cancers usually form on the head, face, neck, hands, and arms; areas that are often exposed to the sun. But skin cancer can occur anywhere.
- Basal cell skin cancer grows slowly. It usually occurs on areas of the skin that have been exposed to the sun. It is most common on the face. Basal cell cancer rarely spreads to other parts of the body.
- Squamous cell skin cancer also occurs on parts of the skin that have been exposed to the sun. But it also may be in places on your body that do not receive any sun exposure. Squamous cell cancer sometimes spreads to lymph nodes and organs inside the body.
If skin cancer spreads from its original place to another part of the body, the new growth has the same kind of abnormal cells and the same name as the primary growth. It is still called skin cancer.
Melanoma is the most serious type of cancer of the skin. Each year in the United States, more than 53,600 people learn that they have melanoma.
In some parts of the world, especially among Western countries, melanoma is becoming more common every year. In the United States, for example, the percentage of people who develop melanoma has more than doubled in the past 30 years.
Lesser Known Skin Cancers
While melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma account for 99% of all skin cancer cases, the following are other forms of skin cancer that are also important to be aware of.
Merkel Cell Carcinoma (MCC)
A rare, aggressive skin cancer that primarily occurs on sun-exposed skin such as the head and neck, as well as the arms, legs, and trunk. MCC usually appears as a firm, pink, red, or purple lump on the skin. Typically, these lumps are painless. Because MCC is a fast-growing cancer it can be hard to treat if it spreads to areas beyond the skin. Learn more about Merkel cell carcinoma from The American Cancer Society.
Kaposi Sarcoma (KS)
This type of cancer develops from the cells that line lymph or blood vessels. It can appear on the skin as a darkish/purple-colored tumor (or lesion) or on the inside of the mouth. Although lesions typically do not cause symptoms, they can spread to other parts of the body. KS is caused by the human herpesvirus-8 (HHV-8). Not everyone infected with HHV-8 will get KS. Typically, those most at risk are infected people whose immune systems have been weakened by disease or by drugs given after an organ transplant.
Types of Kaposi Sarcoma
There are a few different types of KS that are named from the populations that they are present in; however, the changes within the KS cells are all very similar. The different types of KS include:
- Epidemic (AIDS-related) Kaposi sarcoma
- Classic (Mediterranean) Kaposi sarcoma
- Endemic (African) Kaposi sarcoma
- Latrogenic (transplant-related) Kaposi sarcoma
- Kaposi sarcoma in HIV negative men who have sex with men
Epidemic (AIDS-related) Kaposi sarcoma develops in those who are HIV infected. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes AIDS. This type is the is the most common type of KS in the United States. Learn more about Kaposi sarcoma from The American Cancer Society.
Lymphoma of the Skin
Lymphoma is a cancer that starts in the lymphocytes--white blood cells that are vitally important in the functioning of the immune system. While lymphoma commonly involves the lymph nodes, it can begin in other lymphoid tissues such as the spleen, bone marrow, and the skin. The two main types of lymphomas are Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Lymphomas that originated only in the skin are called skin lymphoma (or cutaneous lymphoma).
In addition to some of the typical skin cancer treatments such as photodynamic therapies, chemotherapy, and targeted therapies, lymphoma of the skin may also be treated by stem cell transplants, immunotherapy treatments, and clinical trials involving lymphoma vaccines. Learn more about lymphoma of the skin from The American Cancer Society.
Maryland Oncology Hematology Skin Cancer Treatment Services
Maryland Oncology Hematology offers an integrated team-oriented approach to provide you with the best possible care for skin cancer, whether it’s melanoma or another type of skin cancer. We will explain the facts and answer your questions at every step of the way. Our team of dedicated, highly-trained skin cancer specialists is committed to providing the most thorough and compassionate care to our patients.
We understand that a diagnosis of skin cancer can be overwhelming. Our team of experts will arrange your consultation quickly so you can get the information you need. We will help you, and your family, make individualized treatment decisions in partnership with our medical team. During this process, you will gain the knowledge and confidence to help manage your cancer and continue with routine activities of daily life.
Maryland Oncology Hematology has offices located throughout Maryland and the Washington D.C. area where you will receive state-of-the-art skin cancer treatment in a caring and comfortable environment close to home, work, and family.
Visit the National Cancer Institute where this information and more can be found about Skin Cancer or ask your cancer care team questions about your individual situation.