There are three primary types of skin cancer. Each is named after the cells where it originates, either squamous cells, basal cells, or melanocytes. While some risk factors for these cancers are similar, each type acts a little differently. They vary in how quickly they grow, whether or not they spread to other areas of the body, and their most effective treatments. Knowing the symptoms of each type of skin cancer is important to make sure diagnosis and treatment happen as soon as possible.
Skin cancer is classified based on the type of cell in which it started. There are three types of cells in the epidermis or top layer of the skin. Squamous cells are flat and are constantly being shed and replaced. Basal cells are in the bottom layer of the epidermis and divide, forming new cells to replace the squamous cells as they are shed. Basal cells move up through the epidermis, getting thinner as they move toward to surface and eventually become squamous cells. Finally, melanocytes are the cells that give skin its color. Melanocytes protect the deeper layers of skin from sun damage by darkening when exposed to the sun. Based on the affected skin cells (squamous cells, basal cells, and melanocytes), the most common forms of skin cancer are: squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanoma, respectively.
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