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The three most common types of skin cancer are:
Basal cell carcinoma: Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. These are slow growing and seldom spread, but can invade and destroy underlying tissues and bone if left untreated. Read more about basal cell carcinoma.
Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin: Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin is the second most common type of skin cancer. It can grow more rapidly than basal cell carcinoma and is more likely to metastasize. It is also more likely to invade and destroy underlying bone and muscle if not treated. However, most cases are not life threatening. Read more about squamous cell carcinoma of the skin.
Melanoma: Melanoma is cancer that begins in the cells that produce skin pigment. It is less common than basal or squamous cell skin cancers, but it is more dangerous and can be deadly. If caught early, there is nearly a 97% chance for cure. Read more about melanoma.
This page focuses on basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, which are sometimes referred to as non-melanoma skin cancer. When found early, non-melanoma skin cancers can be cured in most cases.
Melanoma is more aggressive than non-melanoma skin cancers and is treated differently. More information on melanoma can be found on our melanoma disease page.
Skin cancer risk factors
Anything that increases your odds of developing skin cancer is a risk factor.
Skin cancer risk factors include:
- Ultraviolet (UV) light exposure: Extensive lifetime sun exposure or occasional intense exposure causing a sunburn.
- Tanning bed use.
- Age: The longer you are exposed to the sun over time, the higher your risk of developing skin cancer.
- Having a fair complexion, blond or red hair, freckles, blue eyes and/or a tendency to sunburn.
- Being immunocompromised, typically due to taking immunosuppressive drugs.
- A personal history of skin cancer.
- Certain rare genetic disorders, including xeroderma pigmentosum and basal cell nevus syndrome.
- Previous serious skin injuries, such as a major scar or burn.
- Actinic (solar) keratosis. This is a precancerous lesion. About 5% develop into a non-melanoma skin cancer. It can appear as rough, red and scaly patches on the skin. It may be tender and is often more easily felt than seen. Like skin cancer, actinic keratosis usually is found on sun-exposed areas of the body.
Not everyone with risk factors gets skin cancer. However, if you have risk factors, it’s a good idea to discuss them with your health care provider.
Learn more about skin cancer:
Some people have an elevated risk of developing skin cancer. Review the skin cancer screening guidelines to see if you need to be tested.
Behavioral and lifestyle changes can help prevent skin cancer. Visit our prevention and screening section to learn how to manage your risk.
In rare cases, skin cancer can be passed down from one generation to the next. Genetic counseling may be right for you. Visit our genetic testing page to learn more.
Why choose MD Anderson for skin cancer treatment?
At MD Anderson’s Ben Love/El Paso Corporation Melanoma and Skin Center, your skin cancer treatment is personalized to provide the most advanced therapies with the best outcomes and fewest side effects.
Our skin cancer program is one of the largest in the nation. This gives us a level of experience and expertise found in few other centers.
Renowned experts from multiple disciplines work together to customize your care. Beginning with the most accurate diagnosis possible, we offer comprehensive, specialized care for every type of skin cancer.
We're constantly researching newer, safer, and more effective ways to prevent, diagnose and treat skin cancer. This allows us to offer the best possible treatment at any point in your skin cancer care, ranging from established therapies to new interventions.
You are not alone. There are so many of us who know what it's like to be thrown the curve ball of cancer. Fight on, and never give up.