There are three primary types of skin cancer: Basal Cell Carcinoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma, and Melanoma. Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) and Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) are known as nonmelanoma skin cancers. The nonmelanomas are the most commonly diagnosed skin cancer. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and its incidence is on the rise.

The majority of nonmelanoma skin cancers and melanomas are caused by the ultraviolet rays of the sun which damage the DNA, causing uncontrolled growth of skin cells. The advent and popularity of tanning beds and tanning salons has increased the incidence of all skin cancers, especially in young people. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some time during their lives. Almost all skin cancers are curable if found and treated early. Early detection can be lifesaving.

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer and the most readily treatable. BCC is primarily found on skin that received regular sun exposure over years, especially the face, head and neck. Fair skin, tanning, an outdoor occupation and a history of sunburns increase the risk of developing BCC. However, they can form anywhere on the body, including the chest, abdomen, and legs.

People over age 50 are most at risk, but BCC can occur in patients in their teens and 20’s with a history of tanning. Every year almost 3 million Americans (80% of skin cancer cases) are diagnosed with BCC. It is slow growing and rarely spreads to other parts of the body but can be locally destructive. BCC is highly curable when treated early. Sometimes it can reoccur. Treatment options depend upon the size, depth and location of the cancer.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common type of skin cancer diagnosed in the U.S., accounting for about 20% of skin cancer cases every year. It usually occurs on the skin of the face, ears, lips and back of the hands, areas that are regularly exposed to the sun or tanning beds. It can develop in scars (especially burn scars) and chronic skin sores. People who have light skin are most likely to develop SCC. This skin cancer also develops in people who have darker skin. SCC often looks like a red firm bump, scaly patch, or a sore that heals and then re-opens.

SCC can grow deep into the skin, causing damage and disfigurement. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent SCC from growing deep and spreading to other areas of the body. A family history of SCC or melanoma increases the risk of SCC. Treatment options depend upon the size, depth and location of the cancer, how far it has spread and your general health.

SCC can develop from a precancerous skin growth called actinic keratosis (AK).

People who get AKs usually have fair skin. AKs usually form on the skin that gets lots of sun exposure, such as the head, neck, hands, and forearms. Because an AK can turn into a type of skin cancer, diagnosis and treatment are important.


Melanoma is a malignant tumor of the pigment-producing melanin cells that give the skin its color. It usually develops in a changing preexisting mole but can develop as what appears to be a new mole. It is the most serious type of skin cancer because if left untreated melanoma can quickly spread to any internal organ (metastasis) and lead to death.

The first signs of melanoma are a change in the color, size, shape and feel of a mole. However, it can also develop in the mucosa in the mouth, on the lips, or in the eye. Every year melanoma is responsible for 1% of all skin cancer deaths. Most at risk are light skinned, middle aged individuals with a history of chronic sun exposure and blistering sunburns. Ocular melanoma is the most common type of cancer of the eye.

Melanoma risk factors include sun exposure, multiple moles, a family history of melanoma and a weak immune system. Just one severe sunburn in childhood and adolescence doubles the risk for developing melanoma. The more sunburns, the higher the risk. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial.

Knowing the ABCDE warning signs of melanoma can help you find an early melanoma.

When caught early, skin cancer is highly treatable. Even melanoma, which can be deadly, has a cure rate of almost 100% when treated early.

How is skin cancer diagnosed?

To diagnose skin cancer, Dr. Hashemi will perform a skin biopsy. She will remove either the entire skin growth or part of it. The removed skin will be sent to a lab where it will be examined under a microscope. If the diagnosis is skin cancer, she will consider the type of skin cancer, the size and location of the skin cancer, and your health to determine the best treatment for you. Here are some further tips to keep you healthy:

• Keep all appointments with your dermatologist.
• Perform skin self-exams.
• If you notice anything changing, itching or bleeding on your skin, immediately make an appointment to see your dermatologist.
• Protect your skin everyday by seeking shade, taking care around water, snow, and sand, wearing protective clothing and generously applying a broad spectrum, water resistant sunscreen that protects skin from UVA and UVB rays.
• Whether you or a loved one has risk factors for skin cancer, it is important to schedule an annual skin check with board-certified dermatologist Dr. Pantea Hashemi. Do not wait. Contact Dr. Hashemi at University Skin Institute in Sacramento to schedule a full body skin cancer screening.