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Types of Skin Cancer

Cancers of the skin are the most common types of cancer in the United States.

People of all races can get skin cancer, and the risk of getting it increases with age.

What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer refers to a growth of abnormal cells in any of the layers of the skin.

Though it begins in the skin cells, it can spread to other places in the body.

If skin cancer spreads to the lymph nodes, organs, or other areas, it can cause:

  • Damage
  • Loss of function
  • Death

Types of Melanoma and Skin Cancer

There are many forms of skin cancer, based on the type of cells involved.


Melanoma is the deadliest, most aggressive form of skin cancer.

It affects skin cells that produce pigment, called melanocytes, which reside deep in the skin. Because of this, cancers of the melanocytes can be hard to detect in the early stages.

Some melanomas resemble moles and some form in previously benign moles.

As the cancer begins to grow, it can spread to other tissues of the body and cause severe health problems.

Non-melanoma skin cancers

Non-melanoma cancers are — for the most part — less deadly than melanoma.

For example, basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. Doctors diagnose millions of new cases each year. Very rarely are any of these fatal.

Doctors often detect non-melanoma cancers early because they form a growth or irregular patch on the skin.

This growth may be benign (non-cancerous and removable) or malignant (cancerous and able to invade nearby tissues).

Types of non-melanoma skin cancers include:

  • Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) forms in the basal cells, which make up the lining of the deepest layer of the skin. BCC rarely spreads beyond its original site.
  • Dysplastic nevi (atypical moles) aren't cancerous. These moles are actually benign growths that resemble melanoma and signal an increased risk for getting melanoma.
  • Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare and aggressive form of skin cancer. It spreads easily.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second-most common form of skin cancer. It starts in the squamous cells, which make up the upper layer of skin.

Our Melanoma and Skin Cancer Program's expert dermatologists have special training in treating all skin conditions.

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center also provides free skin cancer screenings on the third Friday of every month at Hillman Cancer Center. To make an appointment for a free screening, call 412-692-4724.

Contact the Melanoma and Skin Cancer Program

To learn more about melanoma and skin cancer care at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, call us at 412-647-2811.