The 3 Types of Skin Cancer You Should Know About

When skin cancer is mentioned our mind’s jump to Melanoma skin cancer! There are actually two other skin cancer types that are far more common than melanomas, although less dangerous. It’s easy to be none the wiser of the other two as melanomas dominate the media and are always in the spotlight of skin cancer awareness campaigns – for good reason as 350 people die from melanoma per year in New Zealand

The 2 lesser known types of skin cancers are Basal Cell Carcinoma (abbreviated as BCC) and Squamous Cell Carcinoma (abbreviated as SCC). These skin cancers are referred to as non-melanoma skin cancers.

Fortunately, they are less dangerous and less aggressive than melanomas which is why they get less attention from the media and why there is a general lack of education and awareness.

Skin cancers are often perceived as ‘moles’ which is true for melanomas but not for the other two. BCCs and SCCs have very different characteristics and features to melanomas which means they don’t look like a typical mole. This introduces the term ‘lesion’ which allows us to speak more generally about different things that can be found on the skin – these can include moles, freckles, sun damage and more.

Non-Melanoma Skin Cancers - Basal Cell Carcinoma & Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Let’s start with the more common forms of skin cancers, BBCs and SCCs, affecting an estimated 80,000 people per year in New Zealand. 

Who is more at risk of developing a BCC or SCC?

  • People who have had continuous and long term sun exposure either at work or in leisure time
  • History of sunburn, particularly in younger years
  • Suppressed or weak immune system
  • People who use indoor tanning systems
  • Fair skin, blonde or red hair, blue eyes and freckles have a higher risk
  • Typically over the age of 50 although they can be found in younger people as well

Unfortunately skin cancers do not discriminate based on the factors mentioned above. Anyone can get skin cancer. This list just shows who may be at higher risk.

Key notes for Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)

  • Considered lower risk than melanomas and SCCs
  • Slower to spread
  • Easier to treat or remove in most cases
  • Occur mainly on sun damaged skin
  • Common on the scalp, neck, face, shoulders, arms and backs of hands but can be found on other parts of the body

Common signs of BCC

  • Open sore that doesn’t heal and may be crusty and/or bleed
  • Red patches of skin that can be crusty
  • Pink, red or pearly bump
  • A pink growth with a raised border and crusty center
  • Blue black or brown areas within the lesion

Key notes for Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

  • Considered medium risk (Higher than BCC, lower than melanoma)
  • Usually not life threatening
  • Can be aggressive and must be treated to stop spreading to other parts of the body
  • Occur mainly on sun damaged skin
  • Common on scalp, ears, lips and backs of hands but can be found on other parts of the body

Common signs of SCC

  • Scaly red patches of skin
  • Can appear wart like
  • Open sores that don’t heal
  • Elevated growth with central depression
  • May crust or bleed
  • Sometimes tender or sore

SCC images above are taken from DermNet NZ for educational purposes.

Melanoma Skin Cancer

Melanomas are the most dangerous and life threatening type of skin cancer, especially in New Zealand. Melanomas can develop very quickly and can be very aggressive. Unfortunately, over 350 people die from Melanoma each year in New Zealand.

A particularly dangerous characteristic of melanomas is that they can occur anywhere on the body – not just where sun exposure has occurred. This means they can occur in places that aren’t expected like on the nail beds, between toes, soles of feet, etc. They can be found anywhere on the body.

Key notes for Melanoma

  • High risk but less common than BCCs and SCCs
  • Most aggressive and life threatening if not detected early and treated.
  • Early detection = better prognosis (outcome)
  • High tendency to spread to other parts of the body
  • Can occur anywhere on the body – not just where there has been sun exposure

Common signs of Melanoma to look out for

The ABC’s are a generalized guideline for the public to help indicate whether a mole is likely to be a melanoma. Although a good starting point, it is recommended that a professional skin check is done to check the lesion of concern as well as getting other lesions checked.

It is important to note that a melanoma doesn’t need to meet all of the criteria of the ABCs.

The ABC’s:
A = Asymmetry – A lack of symmetry on the mole
B = Border irregularity
C = Colour, multiple colours such as black, brown, blue, gray, pink, red, white
D = Diameter of larger than 5mm or Different from other moles
E = Evolving /changing
G = Growing
F = Firm to touch

At Skinspect, our lead dermoscopist, Tracey Zeelie, has over 17 years experience in identifying different types of skin cancers and other suspicious skin lesions.
We make the process of getting your moles checked easy with a full body skin check. You can expect any moles and other lesions to be checked from your head to soles of your feet by a qualified dermoscopist who will make you feel comfortable and help educate you throughout the appointment.

To get peace of mind, click here to book an appointment for your skin check.

Disclaimer: The information in the article is not medical advice. We recommend getting your skin checked by a qualified professional with experience in identifying skin cancer.