What is Skin Cancer?

Our skin is our body’s largest organ. It’s made up of multiple layers and – among other things – it helps protect us from injury, germs and infection, sunlight and other environmental insults and regulates our body temperature. 

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer – accounting for roughly half of all cases in the US. It often begins as an unusual, uncontrolled growth on the skin. 

Types of Skin Cancer


There are several different types of skin cancer. Skin cancers are named for the type of skin cell that is affected. For example:

  • Basal cell carcinoma  – starts in the basal cell layer of the skin
  • Squamous cell carcinoma  – begins in the squamous cells, which are thin, flat cells that form the top layer of the epidermis (the outer layer of the two main layers of the skin)
  • Melanoma  – develops in the melanocytes, the cells that give our skin its color

Although skin cancer can occur anywhere on the body, it is most often found on areas often exposed to sunlight. For example, on the face, neck, hands, and arms.

Skin cancer is almost always curable when it is found in its very earliest stages. But skin cancer cells can invade normal, nearby tissue. The cells can also break away from the tumor and enter the blood or lymph vessels and spread to other parts of the body. 

If this happens, it is called metastatic disease. Melanoma is much more likely than other skin cancers to spread to other parts of the body.

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