Types of Skin Cancer

The skin is the body’s largest organ.

The skin has 2 main layers. The bottom layer, the dermis, has blood capillaries, nerve endings, sweat glands, oil glands and hair follicles.

Skin Diagram

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The top layer, on the surface, is called the epidermis. The epidermis is made up of 3 types of cells:

  • Squamous cells are flat, thin cells on the surface of the skin.
  • Basal cells are round cells that lie under the squamous cells.
  • Melanocytes are found in between the basal cells. They’re the melanin-producing cells (melanin is the pigment primarily responsible for your skin’s colour).

The earlier melanoma is diagnosed, the more successful treatment is likely to be. Left untreated, melanoma may spread deeper into the skin where it can be carried to other parts of the body by lymph vessels or blood vessels.

Melanoma and Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer

Skin cancer types are named after the skin cell in which the cancer develops: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma (together called non-melanoma skin cancer) and melanoma.

When cancer starts in melanocytes, it is called melanoma. When skin cancer starts in squamous cells or basal cells, it is called non-melanoma skin cancer.

Although one of the less common types of skin cancer, melanoma is considered the most serious type of skin cancer because it is more likely to spread to other parts of the body, especially if not detected early.

Melanoma is considered the most serious type of skin cancer, even though it is not as common as non-melanoma skin cancer.

Melanoma is the most serious because it is more likely to spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs, liver, brain and bones.

The earlier melanoma is diagnosed, the more successful treatment is likely to be. Left untreated, melanoma may spread deeper into the skin where it can be carried to other parts of the body by lymph vessels or blood vessels.

Worldwide, melanoma accounts for 4% of all skin cancers, but is responsible for 80% of skin cancer deaths.

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Sources

  • Hussein MR. Ultraviolet radiation and skin cancer: molecular mechanisms. J Cutan Pathol. 2005; 32(3):191-205.
  • IARC. A review of human carcinogens. Part D: Radiation. IARC monographs on the evaluation of carcinogenic risks to humans. 2012 Lyon: France. Available here.
  • Government of Canada. Canadian Cancer Statistics. 2014. Special Topic: Skin Cancers

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