Types of skin cancer explained, from the experts in Cambridge

13 July 2018

Any kind of cancer diagnose can by extremely worrying. Here in the UK, some types of cancer are more common than others, and thanks to advances in modern technology many patients can make a full recovery after following the appropriate treatment.

A diagnosis of skin cancer has a high rate of recovery when detected early enough.

Skin cancers develop when skin cells become damaged, usually as the result of overexposure to UV light. There are many types of skin cancer that present themselves in a variety of different ways, but the three most common types are Basal Cell Carcinoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma and Melanoma.

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC/Rodent Ulcer)

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC), also referred to as a rodent ulcer, accounts for around 75% of skins cancers diagnosed in the UK today.

It’s part of a group of non-melanoma skin cancers that slowly develop in the upper layers of the skin. Starting in the cells lining the bottom of the epidermis, symptoms of BCC usually appear as a small "pearly" bump that looks like a flesh-coloured mole or a pimple that doesn't go away.

If left alone or neglected they can eventually erode the skin causing an ulcer – hence the name “rodent ulcer”.

BCC is usually caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun, tanning sun beds and sunlamps. Your risk of developing BCC can increase if:

  • you or a family member have had a previous non-melanoma skin cancer;
  • you have pale skin that burns easily;
  • you already have a large number or moles or freckles;
  • you are taking medication that suppresses your immune system; or
  • you have a pre-existing medical condition that oppresses your immune system.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) starts in the cells lining the top of the epidermis and accounts for about 20% of skin cancers diagnosed in the UK.

SCC usually appears as a firm pink lump with a rough or crusted surface. There can be a lot of surface scale and sometimes even a spiky horn sticking up from the surface.

These lumps are often tender to touch, can bleed easily and may develop into an ulcer if left untreated. SCC can occur on any part of the body, but they are most commonly found on sun exposed sites such as the head, ears, neck and back of the hands. SCC can also spread to other parts of the body if it is not treated early enough.


Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that can spread to other organs in the body if it is left untreated. Symptoms can present in a variety of ways, but the most common indication that melanoma is present in the body is the appearance of a new mole or changes in the appearance of an existing one.

In most cases, melanomas have an irregular shape and are more than one colour. The mole may also be larger than normal and can sometimes be itchy or bleed. Those who may be at susceptible to developing melanoma are often asked to look out for moles which changes progressively in shape, size and colour.

Melanoma is most often caused by ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun or exposure to sun beds. Intense heat from the sun that leads to sunburn is the most common cause of melanoma in the UK.

Some people are at greater risk of developing melanoma than others. These include:

  • people who have lots of moles or freckles;
  • people with skin that burns easily;
  • those who have red or blonde hair; and
  • those who have a close family member who has already had melanoma.

Skin cancer treatment from the experts at Skin and Scar Clinic

Here at The Skin & Scar clinic we offer early recognition and the rapid treatment of all forms of skin cancer. If you would like to find out more, speak to us today on 01223 303336.

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