What’s the difference between non-melanoma skin cancer versus melanoma? Expert Dr. Silvina Pugliese defines the two major skin cancer types and explains skin cancer subtypes and their occurrence rates.
Silvina Pugliese, M.D., is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Dermatology and Attending Physician at the Stanford Medicine Outpatient Center and Stanford Cancer Institute. Learn more about Dr. Pugliese.
“…knowing that there are skin cancers that are separate and different from melanoma, and asking your doctor to take a look at your skin to see whether there’s anything suspicious for either a melanoma or a non-melanoma skin cancer, which could include basal cell cancer, squamous cell cancer, Merkel cell cancer, and sebaceous cell cancer among others.”
Dr. Pugliese, what are non-melanoma skin cancers? I must admit I have some experience with skin cancer in terms of I’m a melanoma survivor, and my sister has had the non-melanoma skin cancers that we’re talking about.
Dr. Silvina Pugliese:
Thank you, Mary Leer. That’s a really great question. So it’s interesting that we think of non-melanoma and cancer that we name them in the context of melanoma being different from melanoma, because melanoma is a skin cancer that I think most people hear the most about, despite the other skin cancers that we’ll talk about, being more common. So melanoma, just to set the stage is a cancer, skin cancer, arising from melanocytes, and those are the cells in our skin that produce melanin, which provides color or pigment to our skin.
When we talk about non-melanoma skin cancers, we’re talking about cancers that are arising from different cell types, the most common non-melanoma skin cancers are those arising from keratinocytes, we call them keratinocyte carcinoma, and there are more common names are basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer. Keratinocytes are the most common type of skin, so there are other less common non-melanoma skin cancers as well, some of those are, Merkel cell carcinoma, these developed from a cell called a Merkel cell, which are present in the skin.
They’re also called neuroendocrine cells because they produce certain hormones, and they can be involved in touch sensation, so basal carcinoma is another non-melanoma cancer that develops from sebaceous or oil glands, so you can see how the non-melanoma skin cancers are related to different cell types that we can find within the skin.
My activation tip for this question is knowing that there are skin cancers that are separate and different from melanoma, and asking your doctor to take a look at your skin to see whether there’s anything suspicious for either a melanoma or a non-melanoma skin cancer, which could include basal cell cancer, squamous cell cancer, Merkel cell cancer, and sebaceous cell cancer among others.