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Skin Cancer Overview

Types of Skin Cancer

Skin cancers are not all the same. Some types are more common than others, and some are more treatable than others. They also differ according to their growth, appearance and where they occur. Most importantly, the various forms of skin cancer differ by symptoms, rate of occurrence, and treatments and preventions. Therefore, it's a good idea to gain a solid understanding of each.

There are three main types of skin cancer. These three -- basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma -- are the most commonly occurring types of the disease, with melanoma being the most deadly.

Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are sometimes grouped together and referred to as the non-melanoma skin cancers. These two skin cancers act very differently from melanoma [source: American Cancer Society]. They're also the most common of skin cancers.

By far, the most commonly occurring type of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma. It accounts for more than 90 percent of skin cancers in the United States, affecting 800,000 Americans each year [source: College of American Pathologists]. Although that's a frightening fact, this type of skin cancer is easier to detect and more treatable than other skin cancers [source: University of Maryland Medicine]. Compared to melanoma, basal cell carcinoma is slow-growing. It appears as small fleshy bumps and is a problem for people of all ages, especially those with fair skin and those who spend a lot of time outdoors [source: College of American Pathologists].

The second most common type of skin cancer is squamous cell carcinoma, affecting about 200,000 Americans a year. This type is more dangerous than basal cell carcinoma, but it has a 95 percent cure rate. Squamous cell carcinoma appears as patches of skin that are red and scaly [source: University of Maryland Medicine].

The most serious kind of skin cancer is melanoma. It strikes more than 50,000 Americans each year. Melanoma has more than doubled in its rate of occurrence in the past 30 years [source: National Cancer Institute]. This cancer is found in the melanocytes, the cells that give skin its color. A malignant melanoma usually appears black or brown in color as atypical looking moles. Anyone can get melanoma, but as with the other two types of skin cancer, fair-skinned people are most at risk for it [source: The Skin Cancer Foundation].

Read on to learn about the symptoms of skin cancer.