Understanding Basal Cell Carcinoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma, and Malignant Melanoma

Understanding the Forms of Skin Cancer

While there are many types of skin cancer, the most common forms are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. The types of skin cancer are classified based on the cell of origin – basal cells in the case of basal cell carcinoma, squamous cells in the event of squamous cell carcinoma, and melanocytes in the event of melanoma. The classification of your skin cancer helps your treating provider to determine the best course of treatment.

While skin cancer can be seen in those of all races, factors that place an individual at higher risk include fair skin type, genetic background, and history of sun exposure or tanning bed use. You can help reduce your risk of skin cancer by wearing sunscreen every day and by practicing good sun protective behaviors.


Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)

Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma arises from cells that form the basal layer of the epidermis of the skin. BCC often appears as a flesh colored to pink papule or bump that may at first appear very innocuous. These can sometimes grow slowly for months or years prior to a person noticing it or seeking treatment. Basal cell carcinoma can sometimes ulcerate or bleed or erode large areas of the skin.

Fortunately, BCC is often the least aggressive form of skin cancer, and only becomes deeply invasive into bone or spread to other locations (metastasis) in rare cases. Basal cell carcinoma is often easily treatable in the office under local anesthesia. It is typically treated by Mohs Surgery, Excision, or electrodessication and curettage (ED&C). Certain superficial forms of BCC may also be treated by topical chemotherapy agents.


Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

Squamous Cell Carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma arises from the squamous epithelial cells of the skin, which reside in the epidermis. SCC most commonly appears as a scaling tan to red patch or changing bump on the skin. Squamous cell carcinoma carries a risk of deep invasion or metastasis, particularly if left untreated. As with all forms of skin cancer, it is important to get your skin cancer treated early to decrease this risk.

Risk factors for aggressive squamous cell carcinomas include immunosuppression, certain locations such as the ear or lip, and large size. Squamous cell carcinoma is typically treated by Mohs Surgery, Excision, or electrodessication and curettage (ED&C). Certain superficial forms of SCC may also be treated by topical chemotherapy agents.



Melanoma is typically considered to be the most dangerous of the three main forms of skin cancer, and depending on the stage, can carry a high mortality rate. Melanoma arises from the pigment making cells of the skin, which are known as melanocytes. It may arise from a pre-existing mole or appear as a new lesion on the skin.

Since it arises from pigment making cells (melanocytes), discoloration in the form of a black, brown, or multi-colored lesion is common, although there are non-pigmented forms of melanoma, known as amelanotic melanoma. When invasive, melanoma has a high risk of spreading to lymph nodes and distant locations. When this occurs, it is known as metastasis.

Once you have been diagnosed with melanoma, your provider at Southside Dermatology may recommend additional testing, lymph node biopsy, and workup in collaboration with an oncologist. When melanoma has spread beyond skin involvement, you may be candidate for more advanced medical treatment.


Dr Robert Fischer and the rest of the team at Southside Dermatology in Tulsa, Oklahoma, hope you have found our blog posting about the types of skin cancer to be informative. At the Skin Cancer Surgery Center at Southside Dermatology, we are well versed at performing skin cancer screening or treatment of your skin cancer and are committed to putting the patient first. Contact us today for an appointment!

We are accepting new patients, have immediate scheduling availability, and take most insurances.

Dr Robert Fischer, MD Director of Cutaneous Oncology and Mohs Surgery at Southside Dermatology and Skin Cancer Surgery Center

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