The Types of Skin Cancer and the ABCDE Rule

skin cancer exam Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in the US. One million Americans are diagnosed each year with some type of the disease. Sun exposure, tanning beds, and genetics can all contribute to the development of skin cancer.

Skin cancer occurs when damage to skin cells caused by genetic defects or ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds leads to the skin cells multiplying rapidly and forming malignant tumors.

The three major skin cancer types are:

  • Melanoma
  • Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

Basal cell carcinomas and squamous cells carcinomas make up most skin cancer cases. While malignant, they’re not likely to spread to other body parts. BCC and SCC cancers can be disfiguring when not treated in their early stages. Melanomas may be fatal when not treated in its early stages.


Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer that develops in pigment cells. In 2013, melanomas of the skin were diagnosed in 72,000 people in the US, causing 10,000 fatalities. Melanomas cause many deaths because it’s highly aggressive and likely to spread to other body parts. When found early, it’s highly treatable.

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)

Basal cell carcinoma is the most commonly diagnosed type of skin cancer in the US. BCC is typically seen on skin that gets frequent sun exposure, such as the hands, neck and head. BCC is especially common on the face or nose but can appear anywhere on the body.

BCC grows slowly and rarely spreads to other body parts. Nevertheless, skin cancer treatment is important because BCC can grow deep over large areas and destroy skin, tissue, and bone.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

Squamous cell carcinoma is another common skin cancer with 700,000 new cases in the US each year. It tends to develop on skin that’s had long-term sun exposure over many years. It’s typically found on the head, neck, back of the hands, and lower legs. It can be found on any other part of the body as well, such as inside the mouth, lips, and genitals.

SCC can be disfiguring and sometimes deadly, if untreated.

Learn the ABCDE Rule of Skin Cancer

Finding skin cancer early is important to curing the disease and avoiding further growth, disfigurement, and possible death. The ABCDE system provides simple methods for recognizing moles and growths which could be cancerous. Most suspicious-looking moles or growths turn out to be normal and non-cancerous, but it’s always better to have anything that looks suspicious checked by a doctor.

If your mole or growth has one or more of the ABCDEs, see your doctor as soon as possible.

A – Asymmetry: The mole or growth doesn’t have two matching halves (not symmetrical).

B – Border: A mole or growth with jagged, blurry, or uneven edges.

C – Color: A mole that’s more than one color.

D – Diameter: A mole or growth larger than a pencil eraser (about 1/4 inch or 6 mm).

E – Elevation/Evolving: A raised mole that’s above the surface and it has an uneven surface, a growth that looks different from the rest, or one that’s changing in size, shape, color.

Other suspicious signs: A mole, freckle or growth that has any of the following: bleeding, oozing, itchy, painful or tender.

Exam and Treatment

Our board-certified dermatologists at Hollywood Dermatology will closely examine the area and potentially take a skin sample that is tested in a lab. If tests prove the sample contains skin cancer, you may need additional tests to determine the extent (stage of the cancer) and appropriate treatment, which will depend on the type of skin cancer found.

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