The vast majority of skin cancers are nonmelanoma skin cancers. They develop in the outer layers of your skin. Unlike melanoma, these cancers have excellent survival rates of 95% or higher.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Experts estimate that about 9,500 people receive a skin cancer diagnosis each day.

The three main types of skin cancer are:

BCC and SCC are collectively known as “nonmelanoma skin cancer.” They’re less likely to spread to distant tissues than melanoma. People with these cancers tend to have an excellent outlook when they receive treatment.

Keep reading to learn more about nonmelanoma skin cancer, including what causes it and how it’s managed.

Experts primarily divide nonmelanoma skin cancer into BCC and SCC.

BCC makes up around 8 out of 10 cases of skin cancer. This cancer starts in basal cells, which become the flat squamous cells that make up the outer layer of your skin.

SCC develops in these squamous cells, and it makes up roughly 2 out of 10 cases of skin cancer.

Other types of nonmelanoma skin cancer collectively make up less than 1% of skin cancers. They include:

Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from sunlight or tanning equipment primarily causes nonmelanoma skin cancer. UV light creates changes to the DNA of skin cells that cause them to replicate out of control.

Some people are at an elevated risk of developing skin cancer such as people who:

  • have light skin
  • have a history of sunburns
  • live in areas that get intense sunlight year-round
  • live at a high altitude
  • have a previous history of skin cancer
  • have a compromised immune system
  • have certain genetic syndromes such as Gorlin syndrome
  • receive more than 100 sessions of psoralen UV (PUVA) treatment for conditions such as psoriasis
  • received X-ray treatment for acne (used prior to 1960)
  • are receiving dialysis
  • are organ transplant recipients
  • consume arsenic in their food or water

BCC usually appears as a shiny, pink, pearly, growth. Other early indications of BCC include:

  • a pigmented growth with a depression in the center
  • a spot on the skin that feels scaly
  • a growth or scaly patch of skin near your ear
  • a sore that doesn’t heal and may have discharge or crust
  • a scaly and slightly raised patch of skin
  • a round growth that’s the color of your skin or pink, red, black, or tan and may be mistaken for a mole
  • a scar-like and often shiny mark that might be white, yellow, or skin-colored

Early indications of SCC include:

  • an open sore that often has raised borders
  • a wart-like growth
  • a growth that looks like a rhinoceros-shaped horn
  • a sore that develops in an older scar
  • a rough, pigmented, scaly patch
  • a brown spot resembling a liver spot
  • a dome-like growth that’s firm

When to contact a doctor

It’s a good idea to contact a dermatologist whenever you see a suspicious spot that could be skin cancer. Doctors can successfully treat almost all nonmelanoma skin cancers if caught early, but they become harder to treat once they spread.

Learn more about what skin cancer looks like.

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A biopsy is the only test that’s usually needed to diagnose nonmelanoma skin cancer. During a biopsy, a dermatologist will numb your skin and remove all or some of your affected spot for laboratory testing.

Read more about the signs of skin cancer.

Doctors don’t often use staging for nonmelanoma skin cancer because it rarely spreads to distant body parts.

The American Joint Commission on Cancer’s tumor, node, and metastasis (TNM) system is the most common staging system for nonmelanoma skin cancer. As of 2018, doctors only use it for cancers that appear on the head or neck.

This staging system classifies cancer from stage 0 to 4. Stage 4 means cancer has spread to other body parts such as your lymph nodes or other organs.

Check out our article on the stages of skin cancer.

Treatment options for nonmelanoma skin cancer include the following:

Surgical removal

Surgery is often the preferred treatment for nonmelanoma skin cancer, and it’s successful for about 9 out of 10 people.

A doctor may use one of three surgical treatments:

  • Excision: During an excision, a surgeon removes the affected spot and surrounding skin.
  • Mohs’ surgery: In Mohs’ surgery, a surgeon removes the affected spot, but not the surrounding skin, from sensitive areas such as your eyelid or nose.
  • Curettage and electrodesiccation: In this procedure, a surgeon scrapes the cancer from your skin before using heat to destroy the remaining cancer cells. Surgeons usually only perform this procedure on the torso, arm, or leg.


Cryosurgery involves spraying an extremely cold substance, such as liquid nitrogen, on the cancer to destroy the tumor. A doctor can perform this procedure in their office.

Learn more about cryosurgery.

Photodynamic therapy

A doctor may use photodynamic therapy (PDT) to treat precancerous growths such as actinic keratosis, which could become BCC.

PDT involves applying a solution to your skin. After a certain time has passed, a doctor will then treat your skin with a special light that activates this substance and kills precancerous cells.


A doctor may prescribe medications before or after other treatments for BCC. They’ll typically prescribe:

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy takes place over several weeks, typically only in people over 60 years of age. Doctors sometimes use it to treat large cancers or when surgery would be difficult.

People with BCC have a 5-year relative survival rate of about 100%, and people with SCC have a 5-year relative survival rate of 95%.

A 100% 5-year survival rate means that people with BCC are about as likely as someone in the general population to live 5 years. Similarly, people with SCC are about 95% as likely as a member of the general population to live 5 years.

You can take the following steps to reduce your chances of developing skin cancer:

  • Avoid recreational tanning beds, lamps, or other equipment.
  • Protect your skin from direct sunlight when the UV index is 3 or higher.
  • Limit direct sunlight in the middle of the day.

Read more about preventing skin cancer.

Nonmelanoma skin cancer primarily includes BCC and SCC. People with this kind of cancer tend to have an excellent outlook, and their cancer rarely spreads to distant areas.

You can reduce your risk of skin cancer by avoiding tanning equipment and protecting yourself from the sun. It’s a good idea to visit a dermatologist any time you notice a suspicious spot on your skin for proper evaluation.