Are there different types of skin cancer and are they all deadly?

May 13, 2014

More than one million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year, which makes it the most common form of cancer.

The three main types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas and melanoma. Basal and squamous cell cancer are the most common and are rarely life threatening, UC Irvine skin cancer experts say. Melanoma, if not found early and treated immediately, can become perilous to your health.

“Nearly 80 percent of skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas and usually develop in more sun-exposed areas such as the face, neck, ears and the backs of hands,” says Dr. Janellen Smith, UCI Health clinical professor of dermatology.

While a recurrence of basal cells on the skin is not uncommon, Smith says basal and squamous cell carcinomas do not usually spread to other body parts.

Melanoma can spread throughout the body if not diagnosed and treated immediately. Once melanoma cells reach other body parts, it becomes much more difficult to treat and you’re much less likely to be cured. 

“The best way to reduce your risk of melanoma is to protect yourself from exposure to UV rays,” says Smith.  “Be sure to practice sun safety. Also make sure to have any new or different spots on your skin checked out by a dermatologist.”

You can minimize your risk of getting skin cancers by avoiding unprotected sun exposure: Apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher at least 20 minutes before going outdoors, and wear protective sunglasses, hats and clothing.

May is Melanoma and Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month. UCI Health wants to improve your chances of living a long and healthy life — know your risks and get checked out.