Skin Cancers and Potential Skin Cancers

Skin cancer refers to the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. One in five people will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Fortunately, skin cancer is almost always curable if detected and treated early with regular skin cancer screenings. Most skin cancers appear to be related to sun exposure. The most common skin cancers or potential cancers are:

Actinic Keratosis (AK)

Scaly or crusty growths (lesions) caused by damage from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, actinic keratoses are also known as solar keratoses.  AKs typically appear on sun-exposed areas such as the face, bald scalp, lips, and the back of the hands. They are often elevated, rough in texture, and resemble warts.  Most become red, but some will be tan, pink, red, and/or flesh-toned. Untreated AKs can advance to squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), the second most common form of skin cancer. Some experts believe they AKs are actually the earliest stage of SCC.—d/actinic-keratosis/signs-symptoms

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common of all skin cancers. It tends to grow slowly and frequently appears on mostly sun-damaged skin as a pinkish, translucent, pearly “pimple” that does not go away. It can also look like a scaly patch or resemble a scar.—d/basal-cell-carcinoma/signs-symptoms

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

SCCs may occur on all areas of the body, including the mucous membranes and genitals, but are most common in areas frequently exposed to the sun, such as the rim of the ear, lower lip, face, bald scalp, neck, hands, arms and legs. Often the skin in these areas reveals telltale signs of sun damage, such as wrinkling, changes in pigmentation, and loss of elasticity.—t/squamous-cell-carcinoma/signs-symptoms


Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. These cancerous growths develop when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells (most often caused by ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds) triggers mutations that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors.  These tumors originate in the pigment-producing melanocytes in the basal layer of the epidermis. Melanomas often resemble moles, and some develop from moles. The majority of melanomas are black or brown, but they can also be skin-colored, pink, red, purple, blue, or white. Melanoma has a hereditary aspect and is provoked by intense, occasional UV exposure (frequently leading to sunburn), especially in those genetically predisposed to the disease. Melanoma kills an estimated 8,790 people in the U.S. annually.

When diagnosed and treated early, melanoma is almost always curable, but if it is not, the cancer can advance and spread to other parts of the body, where it becomes hard to treat and can be fatal. While it is not the most common type of skin cancer, melanoma causes the most deaths. The American Cancer Society estimates that currently about 120,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. In 2010, approximately 68,130 of these were invasive melanomas, with 38,870 in males and 29,260 in females.

Common presentation: (the way it usually looks)—p/melanoma/signs-symptoms

Diagnosis and Treatments—p/melanoma/diagnosis-treatment

MD Anderson Treatment Algorithm