Skin Cancer (Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer or Keratinocyte Cancer)

  • Medical Author:
    Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD

    Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.

  • Medical Editor: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

Quick GuideSkin Cancer Symptoms, Types, Images

Skin Cancer Symptoms, Types, Images

Is skin cancer hereditary?

Since most skin cancers are caused by ultraviolet light exposure, skin cancers are generally not considered to be inherited. But the fact that skin cancer is much more common among poorly pigmented individuals and that skin color is inherited does support the proposition that genetics are very important. There are some very rare genetic syndromes that result in an increased number of skin cancers in those affected.

What causes skin cancer?

It appears basal cell skin cancers arise from DNA mutations in the basaloid cells in the upper layer of the skin. Many of these early cancers seem to be controlled by natural immune surveillance, which when compromised may permit the development of masses of malignant cells that begin to grow into tumors.

In squamous cell cancers, the tumors arise from normal squamous cells in the higher layers of the skin of the epidermis. As with basal cell cancers, these cells are prevented from growing wildly by natural mutational repair mechanisms. When there is an alteration in these genes or the immune surveillance system that controls it, these skin cancers start to grow. In most instances, the genes are altered by ultraviolet exposure.

What are the different types of skin cancer?

There are several different types of skin cancers:

  • Basal cell carcinoma is the most common cancer in humans. Over 1 million new cases of basal cell carcinoma are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. There are several different types of basal cell carcinoma, including the superficial type, the least worrisome variety; the nodular type, the most common; and the morpheaform, the most challenging to treat because the tumors often grow into the surrounding tissue (infiltrate) without a well-defined border.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma accounts for about 20% of all skin cancers but is more common in immunosuppressed people. In most instances, its biologic behavior is much like basal cell carcinoma with a small but significant chance of distant spread.
  • Less common skin cancers include melanoma, Merkel cell carcinoma, atypical fibroxanthoma, cutaneous lymphoma, and dermatofibrosarcoma.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/30/2016

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