What You Need to Know About Skin Cancer on the Scalp

What Is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is a type of malignant tumor that develops from abnormal cells or tissue in the body. These abnormal cells may be stem cells (which develop into any cell in the human body) or normal skin cells which become cancerous when they divide out of control. A few types of skin cancers include basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, non-melanoma skin cancer and melanocytic nevi.

The most common forms of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and non-melanoma skin cancer (NSCL). BCC is the most aggressive form of skin cancer. SCC and NSCL are less dangerous than BCC but still require medical attention if not caught early enough. Melanocytic nevi, also known as “pigmented spots,” occur in people with fair complexions.

They appear as dark patches on the face, neck and chest.

How Common Are Skin Cancers?

According to the American Cancer Society, BCC accounts for approximately 10% of all new cases of skin cancer diagnosed each year. SCC occurs in 5%-10% of all cases and is the second most common form after BCC. Non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) affects 1 in every 500 people at some point during their lives. Even when detected early, more than 1 in 3 cases are fatal.

Melanoma is the least common but most dangerous form of skin cancer. It develops from the pigment-producing cells known as melanocytes and accounts for less than 1% of all new skin cancer diagnoses each year. If not detected and treated early, it is the most likely to be fatal.

What Are the Risk Factors for Melanoma?

The two most common risk factors for developing skin cancer are fair skin and a history of sunburns. For people with fair complexions, the chance of developing skin cancer is increased sixfold. Those who have a history of three or more severe sunburns between the ages of 15 and 20 have a higher risk of developing melanoma as adults.

Other risk factors for skin cancer include:

Long-term exposure to UV radiation from the sun or tanning beds


Aged 40 and older

A family history of skin cancer

Fair skin that freckles or burns easily

What Are the Symptoms of Skin Cancer?

The symptoms of skin cancer depend on where on the body it develops. BCC most commonly appears as a pale or waxy-white patch on the skin that may be crusty, scaly or flat. SCC usually appears as a red patch of skin that may bleed if rubbed the wrong way. NMSC often develops into a raised, brown patch of skin that may itch, ache or hurt.

These symptoms should be brought to the attention of a medical professional as soon as possible.

What Are the Different Types of Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is separated into two main types:

Non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC)

Melanoma skin cancer

Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer (NMSC)

Non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) is the most common form of skin cancer. It is often referred to as “carcinoma” and it accounts for around 90% of all cases of skin cancer. The two main types of NMSC are:

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

SCC develops in the flat skin cells known as squamous cells and accounts for around 3% of all cases of skin cancer. It most commonly appears as a raised lump on the skin that is pale in color.

SCC most commonly occurs on areas of the body that are frequently exposed to the sun. These include the face, ears, neck, bald scalp, lips and the backs of the hands. It can also occur on areas that are rarely exposed to sunlight such as the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

The symptoms of SCC include:

A red, scaly or peeling patch of skin

A crusty, dry or waxy looking patch of skin

Bleeding or oozing from a patch of skin

Lesions that are pink, pale, white or skin-colored

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of cancer in the United States and accounts for