About Skin Cancer

Types of Skin Cancer

Cancer is a disease of the cells, thus skin cancer is a disease of our skin cells.


Over 80,000 new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in Canada every year.

That’s more than breast, lung, prostate, and colon cancers combined.


There are several types, including:

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC), the most common type of skin cancer, begins in the basal cells in the deepest layer of skin. BCC can develop anywhere, though it is most commonly found in sun exposed areas. While it is possible to have more than one BCC, it is rare for BCC to spread.


Watch our informative video about basal cell carcinoma here.  For additional information please visit www.talkbcc.ca

There are several subtypes of BCC:

  • The most common subtype of BCC is nodular BCC, which often appears as a raised lesion with blood vessels on top. It usually appears on the face.
  • The second most common subtype is superficial BCC, which takes the form of a red, scaly patch. It often develops on the torso and limbs.
  • In the deeper layers of skin, infiltrative BCC can occur. Infiltrative BBC often occurs in the neck and head regions, and takes the appearance of scar tissue.
  • Morpheaform or sclerosing BCC usually occurs in the neck and head regions, and takes the appearance of a flat, firm lesion lacking a defined border.

Source: Canadian Cancer Society, “Basal Cell Carcinoma

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), which begins in the keratinocyte cells, is the second most common skin cancer. While SCC usually develops in areas that have been exposed to the sun, it can also manifest in burn or wound sites. SCC is capable of spreading from the surface to deeper layers of skin, lymph nodes or organs.

There are two subtypes of SCC, Adenoid SCC and Desmoplastic SCC, which may have a higher chance of recurrence. Both subtypes often occur on the head or neck, and Adenoid SCC appears as a nude, brown, pink or red nodule.

Source: Canadian Cancer Society, Squamous Cell Carcinoma


Watch our informative video about squamous cell carcinoma here.


New in 2019!  NCCN Guidelines for Patients®: Squamous Cell Skin Cancer & SYSF Webinar


WEBINAR RECORDING AVAILABLE: Squamous Cell Carcinoma: What Patients Need to Know


Dr. David Zloty, Dermatologist and Clinical Professor at UBC, reviews the latest news, clinical data and other updates as they relate to the treatment of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (cSCC), a common and sometimes metastatic skin cancer. Dr. Zloty provides an update on skin cancer statistics in Canada, an overview of the disease features, staging and prognostication, surgery and treatment options including immuno-oncology for cSCC, and the impact of all of this to patients.  Additionally, Erin Vidic, a Medical Writer with the National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN®), introduces their 2019 Patient Guidelines for Squamous Cell Skin Cancer. This comprehensive resource gives skin cancer patients a reliable checklist to inform decisions in their care, which is much-needed for this common form of cancer, and even more helpful in the metastatic setting.

Listen to a recording of the presentation here, or watch it on our YouTube channel here.

Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Merkel Cell Carcinoma (MCC) is a rare non-melanoma skin cancer. It develops in the merkel cells, which are found in the deepest areas of the epidermis and hair follicles. Merkel cells are related to nerve function and hormones production. MCC generally spreads quickly, and develops in areas often exposed to the sun (head, neck, arms, and legs). MCC is sometimes referred to as neuroendocrine skin cancer or trabecular carcinoma.


For more information please visit our new page: About Merkel Cell Carcinoma


Melanoma begins as a malignant tumour in the melanocytes, which are the cells that produce melanin or pigment. As a malignant cancer, melanoma can metastasize to other parts of the body. There are several subtypes of melanoma, including cutaneous, mucosal, and ocular melanoma.


Watch our informative video about melanoma here or click here to view and download the NCCN Guidelines for Patients – Melanoma


Medical News Today: How skin cancer becomes invasive

Source: Canadian Cancer Society, What is Melanoma?


To read more about melanoma, melanoma staging, treatment options, patient support, questions to ask your Doctor, and more, please CLICK HERE: 

Melanoma – After Diagnosis


There are three different types of melanoma


To read more about melanoma diagnosis and staging, genetic testing, treatment options, questions to ask your Doctor, and more, please CLICK HERE:

About Melanoma


Cutaneous Melanoma

There are four different types of cutaneous melanoma, which are determined by microscopic examination of a biopsy sample.

  • Superficial Spreading Melanoma counts for approximately 70% of melanomas of the skin. Superficial spreading melanoma usually develops from an atypical mole and can be found anywhere on the body.
  • Nodular melanoma makes up about 10-15% of melanomas. Nodular melanoma starts growing down into the skin and spreading quickly.
  • Lentigo maligna melanoma makes up about 10-15% of melanomas. Lentigo maligna melanoma is most often seen on skin that has been exposed to the sun. These spots are often large.
  • Acral lentiginous melanoma occurs as often in African Americans as in Caucasians. Acral lentiginous melanoma grows and spreads rapidly.
Mucosal Melanoma

Mucosal melanoma develops in the lining of the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and genitourinary tracts. It is a rare form of melanoma, making up only about 1% of melanoma cases and is often diagnosed at an advanced stage in the elderly. Approximately 50% of mucosal melanomas begin in the head and neck region, 25% begin in the ano-rectal region, and 20% begin in the female genital tract. The remaining 5% occur in the esophagus, gallbladder, bowel, conjunctiva, and urethra.


More information about mucosal melanoma can be found on the Melanoma Research Foundation website.

Ocular Melanoma

Ocular melanoma is rare, affecting approximately five in a million people. While it represents only 5% of melanomas, ocular melanoma is rapid and aggressive, accounting for 9% of melanoma deaths.


Updated January 15, 2019:  We have expanded our resources and support for patients with ocular melanoma by creating the initiative Ocumel Canada. 

Please click here to see all of the resources we have compiled: About Ocular Melanoma


Precancerous conditions of the skin have the potential to develop into non-melanoma skin cancer.


The most common precancerous conditions of the skin are actinic keratosis and Bowen’s disease:

Actinic Keratosis

Actinic keratosis is also called solar keratosis, and is often found on sun-exposed areas of the skin in people middle-aged or older.  A person with one actinic keratosis will often develop more. The number of actinic keratoses often increases with age. The presence of an actinic keratosis indicates that a person’s skin has suffered sun damage.

Actinic keratoses are considered slow growing. They often go away on their own, but may return. Approximately 1% of actinic keratoses develop into squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) if left untreated. Treatment is required because it is difficult to tell which keratoses will develop into cancer.

Watch our informative video about actinic keratosis here.


Risk Factors:

The following risk factors may increase a person’s chance of developing actinic keratosis:

  • Overexposure to ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation from the sun
  • Increased age
  • Fair skin
  • Weakened immune system
  • Previous PUVA (psoralen + UVA) therapy


Signs and Symptoms:

Actinic keratosis is most often seen on skin that is frequently exposed to the sun, such as the face, the backs of hands or a balding scalp. The signs and symptoms of actinic keratosis may include:

  • Small, rough patches that may be pink-red or flesh coloured
  • An initially flat surface that becomes slightly raised and wart-like



Actinic keratosis is diagnosed during an examination of the growth. If it does not go away with treatment or shows signs of developing into SCC, a skin biopsy will be done.



Treatment options for actinic keratosis depend on the number and location of keratoses. The treatment may include one or a combination of the following:

  • Topical chemotherapy
    • 5-fluorouracil (5-FU, Efudex)
    • Ingenol mebutate (Picato)
  • Topical biological therapy
    • Imiquimod (Aldara or Zyclara)
  • Cryosurgery
    • Often used on single spots
    • May also be used for many small, raised spots
  • Surgery
    • Simple surgical excision
    • Curettage and electrodesiccation
      • May be used on many large spots
  • Chemical peeling
  • Laser surgery
  • Photodynamic therapy


Information obtained from the Canadian Cancer Society.

Bowen's Disease

Bowen’s disease is an early form of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). It may be called squamous cell carcinoma in situ. Bowen’s disease involves cancer cells in the epidermis or outermost layer of the skin. Although it can’t spread to the lymph nodes, Bowen’s disease can spread into the deeper layers of the skin if left untreated. When it spreads, it becomes an invasive SCC that then has the potential to spread into the lymph system.


Risk Factors:

The following risk factors may increase a person’s chance of developing Bowen’s disease:

  • Overexposure to ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation from the sun
  • Increased age
  • Previous radiation therapy
  • Weakened immune system
    • Infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) is associated with Bowen’s disease of the anal and genital skin
  • Arsenic exposure


Signs and Symptoms:

Bowen’s disease is most often seen on the legs, backs of hands, fingers or face. The signs and symptoms of Bowen’s disease may include:

  • A reddish scaly patch, which is sometimes crusted – may be a single patch or multiple areas
  • A windblown appearance of the skin
  • Larger, redder and scalier patches than actinic keratoses



If the signs and symptoms of Bowen’s disease are present, or if the doctor suspects Bowen’s disease, a biopsy will be done to make a diagnosis. The type of biopsy may be:

  • Shave biopsy
  • Punch biopsy



Treatment options for Bowen’s disease depend on the number and location of spots. The treatment may be one or a combination of the following:

  • Surgery
    • Simple surgical excision
    • Curettage and electrodesiccation
  • Topical chemotherapy
    • 5-fluorouracil (5-FU, Efudex)
  • Topical biological therapy
    • Imiquimod (Aldara or Zyclara)
  • Cryosurgery
  • Photodynamic therapy


Information obtained from the Canadian Cancer Society.


The following may contribute to the development of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers. If you have any concerns about your skin and possible skin cancer, contact your physician immediately. More information about the diagnosis process can be found here.


  • Unprotected and/or excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation
  • A fair complexion
  • The tendency to freckle
  • Occupational exposures to coal tar, pitch, creosote, arsenic compounds, or radium
  • Some medications, such as immunosuppressants
  • Family history of skin cancers
  • Multiple or atypical moles
  • Severe sunburns, especially as a child

NEW!  October 16, 2019: Melanoma Statistics – A Distillation from the 2019 Canadian Cancer Society  Report

And a Quick Reference:  Canadian Melanoma Statistics 2019


September 2018:  2018 Canadian Melanoma Statistics


June 2017:  A Distillation of Melanoma Statistics, from the Canadian Cancer Society Documents Canadian Cancer Statistics 2017 and 2016.

To read the full reports on Canadian Cancer Statistics, produced by Canadian Cancer Society, Statistics Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada, Provincial/Territorial Cancer Registries, click here for the 2017 report and here for the 2016 report.

NOTE: The information on the Save Your Skin website is not intended to replace the medical advice of a doctor or healthcare provider. While we make every effort to ensure that the information on our site is as current as possible, please note that information and statistics are subject to change as new research and studies are published. 

monthly self-exams are key to early detection

Making awareness and education available is crucial. Since 2006, the Foundation has worked to raise awareness of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers focusing on education, prevention and the need for improved patient care.

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