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Types of Skin Cancer

written by: Sarah Mitchell • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 2/1/2011

There are many different skin cancer types, each with their own characteristics and statistical occurrence. More often than not, skin cancer is caused by UV radiation or genetics; however, some forms result from various diseases and bodily structures.

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    An Overview of Different Skin Cancer Types

    The skin is the body’s largest organ, providing body temperature regulation, internal structure protection, and both vitamin and water storage. This amazing organ has its own layer structure. The outer layer, commonly known as the epidermis, contains three cell tiers: squamous cells (top), basal cells (middle) and melanocytes (bottom).

    Unfortunately, the epidermis and its tiers can be succumbed to damage and disease, such as skin cancer. There are three different skin cancer types, each broken down into the following categories:

    1. Keratinocyte cancers (non-melanomas)
    2. Other non-melanomas
    3. Melanoma
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    Keratinocyte Cancers

    This group of non-melanoma cancers are often known as keratinocyte cancers because the skin cancer cells resemble keratinocytes, a large quantity of cells found in normal skin.[1] Keratinocyte carcinomas include basal and squamous cell cancers, and keratoacanthomas.

    Basal Cell Carcinoma: This type accounts for approximately 80% of all diagnosed skin cancer.[2] Basal cell cancer does not tend to invade other parts of the body; however, it can attack nearby tissues or bones if untreated. Patients in remission are at-risk for developing more skin cancer in the near future.

    Squamous Cell Carcinoma: Less common, squamous cell carcinoma accounts for 20% of skin cancers.[3] Squamous cell cancer is more aggressive than basal cell cancer, and although rare, it can spread to other parts of the body, including the lymph nodes. This form of skin cancer is commonly found on the head and neck, scars, skin ulcerations, and can begin as actinic keratoses.

    Keratoacanthomas: Sometimes considered to be a form of squamous cell carcinoma, keratoacanthomas are different from all skin cancer types because they have the capability of shrinking and disappearing completely with little or no treatment. Despite this understanding, keratoacanthomas are difficult to predict because they can quickly grow and slow down without warning. It is possible for keratoacanthomas to spread from their origin.

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    Other Non-Melanomas

    This category of non-melanoma skin cancers are dissimilar from keratinocyte cancers and require different treatment.[4] These non-melanomas are most commonly the result of a patient's disease or from an organ, tissue, or lymphocytic origin. They are only correlated with less than 1% of cancers. Skin cancers within this category include the following:

    • Merkel Cell Carcinoma
    • Kaposi Sarcoma
    • Skin Lymphomas
    • Adnexal Tumors
    • Sarcomas
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    Melanoma

    This well-known disease is, by far, the rarest and deadliest form of skin cancer because of its known potential factor of spreading to other parts of the body.

    Melanoma afflicts the melanocytes of the epidermis, acting differently from non-melanomas. It can occur anywhere on the body, including nails, and “can also form in other parts of your body such as the eyes, mouth, and vagina…," according to the American Cancer Society’s article, Melanoma Skin Cancer, last updated August 9, 2010.[5]

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    Disclaimer

    The information provided herein is to be used solely for educational purposes. Questions and concerns should be addressed to the patient’s health care provider. Physicians are responsible for proper diagnosis and recommended treatment options.

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    Sources

    American Cancer Society website. What are basal and squamous cell cancers? (accessed January 4, 2011).[1-4]

    American Cancer Society website. Melanoma Skin Cancer (accessed January 5, 2011).[5]

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