Skin cancer

The skin is divided into two main layers. Skin cancer can develop in the different types of cells that make up these layers.

There are three main types of skin cancer:

  • basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
  • squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
  • malignant melanoma

Meet the Skin team.

Types of skin cancer

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) symptoms are more likely to develop on skin that is regularly exposed to the sun, especially on the face, head and neck. BCCs may appear as:

  • smooth and pearly-white
  • waxy
  • a firm, red lump or may look sunken in the middle
  • a pearly brown or black lump if you have darker skin
  • a flat, red spot that is scaly and crusty
  • a pale non-healing scar

BCCs may also:

  • feel itchy and bleed sometimes
  • develop a crust or scab
  • begin to heal but never completely heal
  • develop into a painless ulcer.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
Squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) usually develop in areas that have been damaged by sun exposure. In people with pale skin, they are mainly found on the face, neck, bald scalps, arms, backs of hands and lower legs.

In people with darker or black skin, SCCs are more likely to affect areas that have less or no sun exposure. These include the lower legs, torso, genitals or areas where there has been long-term scarring, for example after a burn. SCCs may:

  • look scaly
  • have a hard, crusty scab
  • look pink or red
  • make the skin raised in the area of the cancer
  • feel tender to touch
  • bleed sometimes

About half of all melanomas start with a new, abnormal-looking mole in normal-looking skin. This usually looks like a dark area or a new mole that changes over weeks or months. Other melanomas develop from a mole that you already have.

It can be difficult to tell the difference between melanoma and a normal mole. The following checklist explains what to look for. It is called the ABCDE list.

  • Asymmetry – Most melanomas are likely to be uneven or irregular in shape (asymmetrical)
  • Border – The edges around a melanoma (border) are more likely to be uneven
  • Colour – Melanomas are usually more than one colour. They may have different shades, such as brown mixed with a black, red, pink, white or a blue tint
  • Diameter – Melanomas are usually more than 6mm wide
  • Evolving – Look for changes in the size, shape or colour of a mole

Am I at risk?

The main cause of most skin cancers is sun exposure. But other things can increase the risk, such as;

  • Sun exposure
  • Using sunbeds
  • If you have had skin cancer before
  • Bowen’s disease
  • Previous radiotherapy treatment
  • Lowered immunity
  • Exposure to chemicals
  • Genetic conditions

The causes of melanoma are not fully understood. There are certain things that can increase the risk of developing melanoma, these are:

  • Age
  • Ultraviolet (UV) light exposure
  • Skin type
  • Having lots of moles
  • Family history of melanoma
  • Reduced immunity

For more information on the risk factors for skin cancer, please follow this link.

Patient information

For information from Macmillan regarding skin cancer, please follow this link.

For information from Cancer Research UK regarding skin cancer, please follow this link.