Nonmelanoma: Patient Education

Basal Cell Carcinoma & Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Cancer Facts

According to the American Cancer Society:

  • About 2.2 million basal and squamous cell skin cancers are diagnosed each year. Most of these are basal cell cancers. Squamous cell cancers occur less often.
  • The number of these cancers has been increasing for many years. This is probably due to a combination of increased detection, more sun exposure, and people living longer.


“Skin cancer has reached epidemic proportions in the United States,” says dermatologist David F. Butler, MD.

There are 900,000 cases of basal cell carcinoma and 200,000 cases of squamous cell carcinoma annually, Dr. Butler says.  Around 2500 people die each year from squamous cell carcinoma.

Skin cancer is cancer that begins in the cells of your skin. Skin cancer is the most common kind of cancer in the United States. In addition to melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, there are three primary types of nonmelanoma:

  • Basal cell carcinoma
    • Most common form of skin cancer
    • Most common form of cancer of all types of cancer
    • Is generally treated effectively with surgery or alternate therapies
    • Rarely metastasizes (spreads)
    • More information below
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
    • Usually occurs on sun-exposed areas
    • Generally does not metastasize
    • May sometimes be invasive
    • In rare cases, can be deadly
    • More information below
  • Merkel cell carcinoma

Nonmelanomas are generally treated differently than melanomas.

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Basal Cell Carcinoma

What Is Basal Cell Carcinoma?

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is skin cancer that starts in the lowest part of the epidermis, called the basal cell layer, in round cells called basal cells.

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, about 80 percent of skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas. It rarely spreads (metastasizes) to other organs.

Where Does Basal Cell Carcinoma Usually Grow?

BCC usually develops later in life in areas where you received the most sun exposure:

  • Head
  • Neck
  • Back
  • Nose

What Does Basal Cell Carcinoma Look Like?

Basal cell carcinomas often occur on moles with:

  • Bloody, oozing, or crusty open sores
  • Reddish, itchy patches
  • Shiny pink or pearly white bumps
  • Raised border and pink indented center
  • Sketchy border with a white or yellow waxy area

What Should I Do If I Have Basal Cell Carcinoma?

The Scott & White Skin Cancer Team recommends immediate and thorough removal of your BCC lesion.

Will My Basal Cell Carcinoma Return?

Basal cell carcinomas may return (recur), very often in the same place. If you’ve had BCC, you are more likely to get it again in other places on your skin within five years as well.

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Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is skin cancer that develops from flat, scale-like skin cells called keratinocytes, which lie under the top layer of the skin or epidermis.

Squamous cell carcinoma is less common than basal cell carcinoma. It’s more common in men than in women, and occurs more frequently than basal cell carcinoma in African Americans and Asians.

In most cases squamous cell cancers can be removed completely. However, they are more likely than basal cell carcinomas to be invasive and spread to other parts of your body.

Where Does Squamous Cell Carcinoma Usually Grow?

Most squamous cell carcinomas occur on sun-exposed areas:

  • Forehead
  • Temple
  • Ears
  • Neck
  • Back of hands
  • Lower legs (for people who sunbathe frequently)

What Does Squamous Cell Carcinoma Look Like?

Squamous cell carcinomas often occur as moles with:

  • Scaly reddish patches
  • Ulcerated lesions
  • Crusty, bloody wart-like growths
  • Crusty, bloody open sores
  • Raised borders and indented centers

What Should I Do If I Have Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

The Scott & White Skin Cancer Team recommends immediate and thorough removal of your SCC lesion.

Will My Squamous Cell Carcinoma Return?

Squamous cell carcinomas may return (recur). If you’ve had SCC, you are more likely to get it again in other places on your skin within five years as well.

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