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Dermatologist Inspecting A Mole On A Patient's Shoulder

A close look at 3 common types of skin cancer

Did you know that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States and worldwide? In fact, about 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the time they reach 70. This startling statistic is reason enough to be informed about skin cancer—from the early signs to treatment optionsThe most common types of skin cancer include basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. While all skin cancers are serious and should be treated promptly, signs, treatments, and prognoses vary depending on the types of cells affected. 

Can you spot the differences between the most common types of skin cancer? 

Basal cell carcinoma

More than 4 million patients are diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma every year, making it the most common form of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma occurs when one of the skin’s basal cells develops a mutation in its DNA. 

What causes basal cell carcinoma?

Like most skin cancers, long-term exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun and/or indoor tanning beds is the major cause of basal cell carcinoma. Those with a history of skin cancer, over the age of 50, with fair skin, or with chronic skin infections and inflammations are more susceptible to basal cell carcinoma. Men are also more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma than women. 

How do you spot basal cell carcinoma? 

Because it doesn’t look as alarming, basal cell carcinoma can be sneaky. It may appear as a: 

  • Patch of skin that doesn’t heal for several months
  • Spot that bleeds from time to time or forms a scab
  • Spot that looks like an incessant pimple
  • Spot that looks like eczema that doesn’t go away. 


It’s important to monitor abnormal skin spots like these. If the abnormality or irritation doesn’t go away after a few months, it’s a good idea to get it checked out by a doctor. 

How is basal cell carcinoma treated?  

There are several treatment options for basal cell carcinoma. Determining the optimal treatment option depends on the microscopic pattern of the cancer, the location on the body, the size of the skin cancer, and factors specific to each patient. From the least invasive to the most aggressive, here are the treatment options for basal cell carcinoma: 

  • Topical creams, such as Aldara, stimulate the body’s immune system to fight off the skin cancer. This is a nonsurgical option requiring 6 weeks of application for 5 days a week and giving an 80 percent cure rate.   
  • Electrodesiccation and curettage is a procedure where a sharp, spoon-shaped instrument (curette) is used to break out the cancer. Then, an electric current is used to burn the base of the cancer. This treatment gives a 90 percent cure rate. 
  • Surgical excision is a simple procedure where the cancer is cut out, and the wound is stitched up or left to heal on its own. This treatment gives a 94 percent cure rate. 
  • Mohs surgery is a procedure where the specimen is checked microscopically while the patient is in the office to ensure the root and cancer cells were effectively removed. Mohs boasts the lowest recurrence rates, highest cure rates, and best cosmetic results of any skin cancer treatment.


Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma is more common in patients with depressed immune systems resulting from organ transplants or other medications, as well as those with a history of leukemia.  

What causes squamous cell carcinoma? 

Squamous cell carcinoma is often caused by DNA damage that leads to mutations in the squamous cells in the top layer of the skin. Like basal cell carcinoma, those with a history of skin cancer, over the age of 50, with fair skin, or with chronic skin infections and inflammations are more at risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma. Additional squamous cell risk factors include a weakened immune system, sun-sensitive conditions (including xeroderma pigmentosum), skin precancers (including actinic keratosis), and a history of human papillomavirus (HPV). 

How do you spot squamous cell carcinoma? 

The signs and symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma are very similar to those of basal cell carcinoma. Squamous cell spots can occur anywhere on the body and often appear red scaly patches that crust or bleed. They can also show up as warts, open sores that don’t completely heal, or growths that are raised at the edges with a lower area in the center that may bleed or itch. 

How is squamous cell carcinoma treated?

Other than topical creams, squamous cell treatment options are the same procedures listed above for basal cell carcinoma. The topical cream is not FDA approved to treat squamous cell carcinoma. As a shallow cancer often confined to the epidermis, it can be relatively nonaggressive to treat.


Melanoma is less common, but the most dangerous form of skin cancer. While 180,000 cases of melanoma are diagnosed in the U.S. every year, the cure rate is very high when detected and treated early. Consequently, it’s vital to know how to prevent it and spot it. 

What causes melanoma? 

Melanoma develops from melanocytes, the skin cells that produce melanin pigment. Similar to basal cell carcinoma, melanoma is usually triggered by intense sun exposure and indoor tanning that causes skin damage, which prompts the melanocytes to produce more melanin and eventually leads to uncontrolled cellular growth. 

How do you spot melanoma? 

Melanoma presents itself as a dark brown to black colored spot and occasionally as a pink bump or spot. A good percentage of melanoma spots arise from existing moles, but some arise from new lesions. While melanomas come in many shapes and sizes, the ABCDEs and the Ugly Duckling sign can help you recognize the warning signs of melanoma. 

How is melanoma treated? 

A surgical incision is the standard care for early-stage melanomas. For more advanced melanomas, a surgical incision and a sampling of lymph nodes are recommended to determine if the melanoma has spread. Chemotherapies have also been used to treat more aggressive forms of melanoma. 

Most importantly, monitor your skin for abnormalities and strange spots. If you think a spot is concerning, contact a board-certified dermatologist to receive a biopsy and diagnosis. 

Contact Center of Surgical Dermatology for Skin Cancer Treatment in Westerville, OH

Center of Surgical Dermatology is the largest medical and surgical skin treatment and wellness facility in Central Ohio. Since 2007, our board-certified Dermatologists, fellowship-trained Mohs surgeons, and caring professional staff have provided patients with treatment they can trust in an environment second to none. Learn more about our state-of-the-art Dermatology Center before booking your appointment today.

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