Types of skin cancer

This information provided by Cancer Council Western Australia (external site).

There are 3 types of skin cancer and they are named after the type of skin cell they start from. These are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma skin cancer.

Basal cell carcinoma

  • Most common form of skin cancer but the least dangerous.
  • Appear as round or flattened lump or scaly spots.
  • Red, pale or pearly in colour.
  • May become ulcerated, bleed and fail to heal.
  • Grows slowly over months or years.
  • Usually found on the upper body, head or neck.
  • Also known as non-melanoma skin cancer.

Squamous cell carcinoma

  • Less common, but more dangerous than basal cell carcinoma.
  • 1 to 2 per cent can spread and cause death.
  • Look for scaly red areas that may bleed easily, ulcers or non-healing sores that are often painful.
  • Grows over a period of months.
  • Often found on lips, ears and scalp.
  • Also known as non-melanoma skin cancer.

Melanoma skin cancer

  • Least common but most serious form of skin cancer.
  • Can appear in a new or an existing spot, freckle or mole that changes colour, size or shape.
  • Grows over weeks to months anywhere on the body (not just areas that get lots of sun).
  • If untreated, cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body.
  • Occurs most frequently on the upper back in males and on the lower leg in females.

The warning signs of UV damage to the skin and eyes

The following conditions are not cancer but may predispose you to skin cancer or be a warning sign that damage to the skin or eyes has occurred.

Dysplastic naevi

  • Are odd shaped (also called atypical) moles that aren't cancer, but may indicate a greater risk of developing melanoma.
  • Usually 5 to 10mm wide, with uneven colouring.
  • If you have lots of odd shaped moles you are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer and should have your skin checked regularly by your doctor.

Solar kertoses

  • Generally hard, red, scaly spots on sun exposed areas of the skin.
  • Occur commonly on the head, neck and the backs of the hands.
  • Are a warning sign that the skin has been damaged by the sun and that skin cancers may develop.

Eye damage

  • Sun exposure can cause burns to the eye similar to sunburn of the skin which may lead to:
    • cataracts (clouding of the lens)
    • pterygium (tissue covering the cornea)
    • cancer of the conjunctiva or cornea.

Where to get help


  • Skin cancer develops when a cell in the skin goes through a series of changes.
  • Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the main factor that causes skin cells to become cancer cells.
  • Ultraviolet (UV) radiation can damage skin cells and stop the immune system from working properly.

This information provided by
Logo: Cancer Council Western Australia

Cancer Council Western Australia

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.