What’s the Difference Between Melanoma and Skin Cancer?

Many people think that skin cancer and melanoma are the same thing, but actually, melanoma is one type of skin cancer. Other forms of the disease are less aggressive and more common.

Melanoma is the rarest form of skin cancer, with approximately 76,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the U.S. It is also the most aggressive skin cancer, and is most likely to spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma begins in the melanocytes, which are the cells in the lowest layer of the epidermis. Possible signs and symptoms of melanoma include a change in the appearance of a mole or pigmented area of the skin.

Squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma are two other types of skin cancer. They form in the upper and middle layers of the epidermis, respectively. Both are classified as “nonmelanoma” and rarely spread to other parts of the body. Possible signs of nonmelanoma include unusual changes in the skin, such as areas that are small, raised, smooth or red, or skin that is rough, red and scaly.

All types of skin cancer can occur anywhere in the body, but melanoma is most common in skin that is often exposed to sunlight, such as the face, neck, hands, and arms. It is important to visit your dermatologist with any questions or concerns about moles or unusual areas of the skin, in order to detect and diagnose any possible skin cancer as early as possible.

Learn more about skin cancer from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.