Basal Cell and Squamous Cell Carcinomas

Basal cell and squamous cell cancers behave and are treated similarly. The difference lies in the cell from which it originates within the skin. Often, this only can be distinguished by examining the skin under a microscope.

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common cancer of any type with more than 1 million new cases diagnosed each year. Both basal and squamous cell carcinoma most commonly occur on the head and neck. The carcinoma often begins as a small bump that can look like a pimple but will continue to enlarge, often bleeds, and does not heal completely. It may be red, flesh-colored, or darker than the surrounding skin.

Basal cell carcinoma rarely spreads (metastasizes) to distant parts of the body. Instead, it grows larger and deeper, destroying nearby parts of the body in its path. Squamous cell carcinoma behaves locally like basal cell carcinoma. However, certain tumors can metastasize (spread elsewhere) from the skin.

There are several different types of basal and squamous cell carcinoma. It is important to distinguish these types prior to treatment, as different therapies may be required. For this reason a biopsy is usually performed prior to treatment.