Most skin cancers are not melanoma (nonmelanoma). The most common nonmelanoma skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, which start in either the basal cells or squamous cells located at the base of the outer layer of skin (epidermis). The majority of nonmelanoma skin cancers develop on sun-exposed areas, resulting in formation of abnormal skin cells. With rare exceptions, most nonmelanoma skin cancers don't spread to other parts of the body and are curable if detected and treated early.
- Experience and expertise. Mayo Clinic skin specialists (dermatologists) are nationally known for their extensive experience in treating both common and rare types of nonmelanoma skin cancer. Mayo Clinic doctors treat thousands of people with skin cancer each year.
- Newest treatments and research. Mayo Clinic offers the latest treatments, including Mohs surgery, as well as clinical trials of experimental treatments. Mayo Clinic surgeons have extensive expertise and specialized training in Mohs surgery, performing several thousand surgeries annually. Mayo Clinic's leading edge cancer research gives you access to new potential treatment discoveries.
- Comprehensive cancer center. Mayo Clinic Cancer Center meets strict standards for a National Cancer Institute comprehensive cancer center, recognizing scientific excellence and a multidisciplinary approach focused on cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
The most common types of nonmelanoma skin cancer include basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
Basal cell carcinoma
Basal cells comprise the lower portion of your top layer of skin (epidermis) called the basal cell layer. Basal cell carcinoma typically occurs in areas that receive a high level of exposure to the sun, such as your face, neck and the top of your hands. It generally grows slowly, but if left untreated, it can invade surrounding tissue or spread to other organs.
Squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma develops in the epidermis when squamous cells divide abnormally. This occurs in skin areas that receive high sun exposure, such as your face, neck and the top of your hands. Squamous cell carcinoma can spread to lymph nodes and internal organs, but spreading is not common. People who have squamous cell carcinomas on the face, particularly the lip and ear, are at higher risk of the cancer spreading, as are those whose immune systems are suppressed or who have had organ transplants.
Other less common types of nonmelanoma skin cancer include Merkel cell carcinoma, dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans (DFSP), microcystic adnexal carcinoma, atypical fibroxanthoma (AFX), malignant fibrous histiocytoma, sebaceous carcinoma and other rare adnexal tumors.
Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., is ranked among the Best Hospitals for cancer by U.S. News & World Report. Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., and Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., are ranked high performing for cancer by U.S. News & World Report.
At Mayo Clinic, we assemble a team of specialists who take the time to listen and thoroughly understand your health issues and concerns. We tailor the care you receive to your personal health care needs. You can trust our specialists to collaborate and offer you the best possible outcomes, safety and service.
Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit medical institution that reinvests all earnings into improving medical practice, research and education. We're constantly involved in innovation and medical research, finding solutions to improve your care and quality of life. Your doctor or someone on your medical team is likely involved in research related to your condition.
Our patients tell us that the quality of their interactions, our attention to detail and the efficiency of their visits mean health care — and trusted answers — like they've never experienced.
Why Choose Mayo Clinic
What Sets Mayo Clinic Apart
Mayo Clinic emphasizes a thorough evaluation using the latest technology to diagnose nonmelanoma skin cancer. To make a diagnosis, your doctor first performs a detailed skin exam. Additional tests used for diagnosis may include those described below.
Your doctor may remove a small skin sample (biopsy) for examination by a pathologist. If your doctor suspects that the cancer has spread beyond your skin, you may also have a lymph node biopsy. Mayo Clinic's pathologists are internationally known for their expertise in assessing biopsy tissue samples.
You may have imaging tests to help determine whether the cancer has spread. Mayo Clinic has an international reputation for top-quality imaging and rapid test results. In tests that involve radiation, specialists carefully monitor doses to avoid the risk of radiation overexposure. Your doctor may recommend one or more of these scans:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Computerized tomography (CT)
- Positron emission tomography (PET)
Read more about skin biopsy, MRI, CT scan and PET scan.
Mayo Clinic's experienced doctors and surgeons work as a team to create a customized skin cancer treatment plan for you, giving you access to the latest options. Your team may recommend one or more of these treatments.
Surgical options include:
- Excision. Your surgeon removes (excises) cancerous tissue, along with a margin of surrounding healthy tissue.
- Curettage and electrodesiccation. After scraping away most of the cancerous tissue with an instrument (curette), your doctor applies a mild electric current to destroy any remaining abnormal cells.
- Freezing (cryosurgery). Small, early-stage cancers can be destroyed by freezing, using liquid nitrogen.
- Mohs surgery. In Mohs surgery, your surgeon removes the cancerous tissue and surrounding tissue layer by layer. The removal of layers continues until no abnormal cells remain. Mayo Clinic surgeons have extensive expertise and specialized training in Mohs surgery, performing thousands of these surgeries annually.
Other options include:
- Photodynamic therapy (PDT). PDT combines photosensitizing drugs and light to treat superficial skin cancers. During PDT, a liquid drug that makes the cancer cells sensitive to light is applied to the skin. After an hour or two, a light that destroys the skin cancer cells is shined on the area. Mayo Clinic researchers are investigating its effectiveness on more-advanced skin cancers.
- Laser therapy. Certain types of early-stage cancers on the top skin layer can be removed with an intense beam of light (laser) that vaporizes them.
- Creams and ointments. Prescription creams and ointments can help treat certain nonmelanoma skin cancers. Some of these medications require careful supervision by your doctor because they can cause severe skin irritation and other side effects.
- Radiation therapy or chemotherapy. For more-serious, advanced cancers, some people may need radiation therapy or chemotherapy.
Mayo Clinic works with hundreds of insurance companies and is an in-network provider for millions of people. In most cases, Mayo Clinic doesn't require a physician referral. Some insurers require referrals or may have additional requirements for certain medical care. All appointments are prioritized on the basis of medical need.
A team of specialists at Mayo Clinic in Arizona works together to identify the appropriate treatment approach for you. The team may include specialists from dermatology, oncology, radiation oncology, general surgery, plastic and reconstructive surgery, and other specialists as needed.
For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 800-446-2279 (toll-free) 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.
- U.S. Patients
- International Patients
A team of specialists at Mayo Clinic in Florida works together to identify the appropriate treatment approach for you. The team may include specialists from dermatology, oncology, radiation oncology, general surgery, plastic and reconstructive surgery, and other specialists as needed.
For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 904-953-0853 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.
- U.S. Patients
- International Patients
A team of specialists at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota works together to identify the appropriate treatment approach for you. The team may include specialists from dermatology, oncology, radiation oncology, general surgery, plastic and reconstructive surgery, and other specialists as needed.
For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 507-538-3270 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Central time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.
- U.S. Patients
- International Patients
See information on patient services at the three Mayo Clinic locations, including transportation options and lodging.
Designated as a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute, the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center is a leader in translating knowledge gained from cancer research into effective improvements in patient care.
Nonmelanoma cancer researchers are using large patient populations to study potential causes of these cancers. Other areas of investigation include identifying risk factors for aggressive cancer, maximizing treatment safety and determining the most appropriate treatments for high-risk patients, such as organ transplant recipients and people with diseases that suppress the immune system.
See a list of publications by Mayo Clinic doctors on nonmelanoma skin cancer on PubMed, a service of the National Library of Medicine.
Jun. 27, 2013