What Are Basal and Squamous Cell Skin Cancers?

Basal and squamous cell skin cancers are the most common types of skin cancer. Both start in the top layer of your skin (the epidermis). These cancers are usually found in areas exposed to the sun – such as your head, face, neck, and arms – but can occur anywhere on the body.

Approximately 3.3 million Americans are diagnosed with basal or squamous cell skin cancers each year. Both cancers can be aggressive but are very treatable.

What’s the Difference Between Basal and Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

Basal cell carcinoma, which forms in the lower part of the epidermis (the basal cell layer), accounts for more than 90 percent of all skin cancers in the United States.

As basal cells move up in the epidermis, they flatten – eventually becoming squamous cells. When squamous cells in the upper (or outer) part of the epidermis grow out of control, they can develop into squamous cell carcinoma.

It’s very rare for basal cell carcinoma to spread, but it must be removed completely or it could return in the same location. Squamous cell carcinoma can also be removed completely, although it’s more likely to grow into deeper layers of your skin and spread to other parts of your body.

What Are Basal and Squamous Cell Carcinoma Risk Factors?

Men are more likely than women to get basal or squamous cell skin cancer. Your risk also rises as you age.

Other risk factors include:

• Ultraviolet (UV) light exposure from sunlight or indoor tanning beds
• Light-colored skin
• Previous skin cancer
• Long-term or severe skin injury, such as scarring, burns, or damage caused by an inflammatory skin disease
• Exposure to chemicals like arsenic, coal tar, paraffin, and certain types of petroleum products
• Radiation exposure, such as radiation treatment for cancer patients
• Weakened immune system

Is Early Detection Possible for Basal and Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

Knowing your own skin is key to finding skin cancer early. Learn the patterns of your moles, freckles, and other blemishes so you’ll notice any changes. The warning signs for basal and squamous cell carcinoma include any new growths or changes in size, color, or shape over time.

What Are the Symptoms of Basal and Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

Both basal and squamous cell skin cancers can develop as firm, flat areas that show only slight changes from normal skin. However, most basal cell carcinomas appear as:

• Raised red patches that may be itchy
• Small, shiny pink or red bumps (some also have blue, brown, or black areas)
• Pink growths with raised edges and a low indentation in the center
• Open sores that don’t heal or keep returning

Squamous cell carcinomas can also appear as:

• Rough or scaly red patches that may crust or bleed
• Wart-like growths

Again, it’s essential to have a dermatologist check any new or changing skin growths, sores that don’t heal, and other areas that concern you.

How Are Basal and Squamous Cell Carcinoma Diagnosed?

Your Forefront dermatologist will carefully examine your skin from head to toe, including your scalp and the soles of your feet. Along with the visual exam, we may use a technique called dermoscopy to see the spots on your skin more clearly.

If we find a suspicious area that could be cancerous, our next step is a basal and squamous cell biopsy. This involves taking a sample from the area (or removing the growth entirely) and reviewing it under a microscope to check for the presence of cancer cells.

What Are the Steps for Treating Basal and Squamous Cell Skin Cancer?

When detected early, most basal and squamous cell carcinomas can be treated and cured. Be sure to visit your Forefront dermatologist promptly – as skin cancer grows, it can become more dangerous and potentially disfiguring, requiring more extensive treatment.

Your options for basal and squamous cell removal include:

• Curettage and electrodessication
Mohs surgery
• Excisional surgery
• Cryosurgery
• Laser surgery
• Photodynamic therapy

Your Forefront dermatologist can also prescribe topical medications (creams or gels) that treat superficial basal cell carcinomas with minimal risk of scarring.

The sooner you visit us, the sooner we can treat your skin cancer – and the better your results will likely be.

Can I Prevent Basal and Squamous Cell Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is America’s most common cancer but is also one of the most preventable cancers. You can do your part by:

• Limiting your sun exposure
• Never using indoor tanning beds
• Avoiding harmful chemicals
• Not smoking
• Protecting your immune system
• Visiting a dermatologist for regular check-ups

Where Can I Turn for Basal and Squamous Cell Carcinoma Care?

At Forefront Dermatology, we’re here to protect your skin and your health. Whether you need skin cancer diagnosis or treatment, our board-certified dermatologists are ready to help. Find a Forefront Dermatology office near you and schedule a consultation today.

Is it skin cancer? Book a consultation with a skin care expert today.

Interested in Basal Cell Carcinoma Treatment? Book a consultation with a skin specialist today.


*Treatment options may vary at each location.
Please confirm your desired treatment is offered at your preferred location when scheduling.

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