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Skin and Melanoma Cancers

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Basal Cell Carcinoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma, Melanoma

Like all body tissues, the skin is made of tiny 'building blocks' called cells. These cells can sometimes become cancerous, for example under the influence of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The skin has many important jobs. It protects us from injury, cools us when we get hot and prevents us from becoming dehydrated. The skin has two main layers: the epidermis and the dermis. The epidermis is the top or outer layer.

The epidermis (the outer layer of the skin) contains three different types of cells: squamous cells; basal cells and melanocytes. Skin cancers are named after the type of cell they start from. The three main types of skin cancer are basal cell cancer, squamous cell cancer and the most serious skin cancer is melanoma. Melanoma develops from melanocytes (pigment cells).

Basal Cell Carcinoma

This is the most common but least dangerous type of skin cancer, most often found on the head, neck or upper body. They usually start as small, round or flattened lumps that are red, pale or pearly in colour, and may have blood vessels on the surface.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

These are less common than basal cell carcinomas but are potentially more dangerous. They grow more quickly, usually over weeks or months and may spread to nearby lymph nodes or other parts of the body if not treated promptly. They occur most often (but not only) on the head, neck, hands and forearms. It looks like a red scaly spot, usually thickened, which may bleed easily or ulcerate after some time, and maybe tender to touch.


This skin cancer develops in the melanocytes and can occur anywhere on the body. It may grow quickly and, if it is not treated, may spread to other parts of the body to form new, secondary cancers.