4 Different Types of Skin Cancer: Signs and Treatments

All skin cancers have one thing in common — the earlier they are caught, the better the prognosis. However, skin cancers differ in their symptoms and treatments. 

Fortunately, you can learn what to look for and when to see a dermatologist for diagnosis if anything looks different or suspicious.

At his private practice in Santa Monica, California, Dr. Trevan Fischer provides cutting-edge care from diagnosis to treatment for skin cancer. He stays up-to-date with the latest research and treatment options through his work on clinical trials at the Saint John's Cancer Institute.

Skin cancer

Skin cancer is common and will affect one in five Americans by the time they are 70. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds damages the skin and plays a role in developing skin cancer.

Types of skin cancer

Skin cancer results from the abnormal growth of skin cells. The type is defined by the location where the cancer begins. There are four main kinds: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma, and Merkel cell carcinoma.

Basal cell carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma begins in the basal cells, found in the skin's outermost layer. It often develops in areas exposed to the sun, such as the scalp, face, ears, neck, shoulders, and back.

This cancer can appear as a waxy or pearly bump or a lesion that could be flat and flesh-colored or brown and scar-like. Alternatively, it could be a sore that bleeds or scabs and then heals, only to return again.

Squamous cell carcinoma

This type of skin cancer often appears in similar areas to basal cell carcinoma. However, unlike basal cell carcinoma, it starts in the skin's squamous cells. It can look like a firm, red nodule or a flat lesion with a scaly, crusted surface or a sore or patch that doesn't heal.


Melanoma occurs in the cells that give skin its color. It can develop in an existing mole or in normal skin. It's often found on the face or torso in men, while it frequently occurs on the lower legs in women. However, it can strike anywhere on the body in areas exposed to the sun and in places not subject to UV radiation. 

Symptoms include any spot or mole that is asymmetrical, has an irregular border, has changes in color, is more than one-quarter inch in diameter, or is generally changing or evolving.

Merkel cell carcinoma

Merkel cell carcinoma occurs in the Merkel cells located on the skin's surface. It is typically found in areas exposed to the sun and appears as a painless lump that could be flesh-colored, red, blue, or purple. It could be up to the size of a dime and often grows quickly. People older than 50 or immunosuppressed are at higher risk.


Treatment depends on the type. If basal or squamous cell carcinoma is suspected, a biopsy is performed to determine if cancer cells are present. If so, the entire lesion is removed. Spots or lumps that could be melanoma or Merkel cell carcinoma are excised and examined.

Depending on the type, one or more lymph nodes may also be removed to determine if the cancer has spread. The result directs the next treatment steps, which can range from nothing if the cancer is localized to chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, or targeted therapy.

Catching skin cancer early is essential for the best possible outcome. If you have discovered something new or different on your skin, we can make a diagnosis and help guide your treatment plan. Click to book an appointment or call the office today at 310-807-2688.

You Might Also Enjoy...

 Why is Gallbladder Surgery So Common?

Why is Gallbladder Surgery So Common?

Gallbladder removal is a common surgical procedure after developing gallstones. Read on to learn about gallbladder surgery and why this is often the treatment of choice.
Why Are Younger People Getting Melanoma?

Why Are Younger People Getting Melanoma?

Melanoma is a serious skin cancer that can spread to other areas of the body and affect all ages. In fact, those under age 40 are seeing an increase in diagnosis. Read on to learn the signs to watch for.