Types of Skin Cancer and their Causes

Skin cancers owe their name to the cell type that becomes malignant when that type of cancer occurs in the body or skin. You should keep a close watch on your skin and have regular skin checks to reduce your chance of skin cancer. Here are the types of skin cancer and what causes them.

Dr Mark Gittos is a Specialist Plastic Surgeon who performs complex skin cancer lesion removals and reconstruction. He is based in Herne Bay, Auckland NZ and works with Skin Clinics in New Plymouth, Whangarei and Tauranga.

The three most common types of skin cancer are:

1. Melanoma (life-threatening)

This type of skin cancer begins in melanocytes, which are responsible for producing the dark brown to black pigment that gives color to the skin known as melanin. Melanoma can occur anywhere on the skin surface. In men, melanoma often occurs on the head, neck, between the shoulders and the hips while in women, melanoma often occurs on the lower legs, or between the shoulders and the hips. (1) Melanoma is rare in dark-skinned people. When it does, it usually occurs under the fingernails and toenails, on the palms, or on the soles of the feet.

2. Basal cell skin cancer (BCC) 

This type of skin cancer occurs in body areas that are more commonly exposed to the sun such as the face. Basal skin cancer commonly affects fair-skinned people. Because of the intense and often excessive sun exposure common to our cultures, many people in Australia & New Zealand have Basal cell skin cancers – on their face, arms, legs, ears or hands – by the time they reach their later years. But again, skin cancer can occur in anyone at any age.

3. Squamous cell skin cancer (SCC) 

This type of skin cancer commonly occurs in concealed body areas such as the legs and feet. However, in people with fair skin, this can occur on other skin parts such as the head, ears, face and neck.

Click here to see photos of different types of skin cancers and the RACGP article link on treatment options.

What Causes Skin Cancer?

Research suggests that over 95% of skin cancers are caused by sun exposure. What’s wrong with a bit of sun without protection? Getting too much sun – or sunburned – can kill you in relation to your risks of getting Melanoma.

Dr-Mark-Gittos-Blog-Types-of-Skin-Cancer-and-Where-They-Show-Up-on-Your-Body Scaled Small

If you’re young and like to sunbake, you may think that it’s not a risk OR that it might show up very late in life; but you’d be wrong to underestimate the risks of getting Melanoma whilst you are still quite young.

A Melanoma type of skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis for people between the ages of 15 and 44.

Types of Skin Cancer and Where They Show Up on Your Body Blog Melanoma Illustration on Dr Mark Gittos Website

Men are also at a higher risk than women. This may be linked to the fact that males, in the past, spent more time working outdoors than women, although these days sun exposure habits are much more likely to be equal – hence everyone is at higher risk.

Six Risk Factors for Types of Skin Cancer

According to research studies, the following are the most common risk factors for any type of skin cancer:

1. Prolonged exposure to the sun, tanning beds and other artificial sources of UV radiation and SUNBURN 

Too much UV radiation from the sun or tanning beds can damage the skin’s genetic material or DNA. Over time, it can cause cells to rapidly grow out of control, which can lead to development of skin tumors or cancer. (2) Moreover, having severe, blistering sunburns can increase one’s risk for melanoma.

2. Your Personal history

If you have melanoma, then you are also at risk for developing another type of skin cancer such as basal cell skin cancer and squamous cell skin cancer.  If you have other health conditions, your immunity may be compromised and you may also be at increased risk.  Stay healthy and avoid the sun. If you’ve already had a lot of sun exposure or have ever suffered a severe sunburn, please get checked on a frequent basis by someone who is a professional in identifying and treating Skin Cancers (or if you already have a diagnosis, removal of skin cancers can be done by a Plastic Surgeon like Dr Gittos,

3. Genetics 

Skin cancer can be passed down by your parents. If you inherit your parents’ defective genes which trigger skin cancer, then you are most likely to have it at some point in your life.

4. Fair-skinned people 

If you have light skin (fair skin or translucent skin), then you are likely at a higher risk for developing skin cancer, especially if living in New Zealand. This risk becomes elevated because fair-skinned people tend to have lesser amounts of melanin in the skin, which has a protective role by blocking UV radiation from damaging your DNA. On the contrary, dark-skinned people have higher melanin deposits in their skin that’s why they are at lower risk for skin cancer.

5. Some Medications: 

Certain medicines including hormone medications, steroids and antibiotics – even certain supplements – can cause your skin to become hypersensitive to the sun and at higher risk of sunburn or of developing skin cancer. These medications include tetracyclines, fluoroquinolones, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, diuretics and retinoids. (3)

6. Certain medical conditions: 

There are certain medical conditions which may render you with an increased susceptibility to skin cancer.  These include a weakened immune system, viral infections, albinism (lack of melanin production in the skin), and xeroderma pigmentosum (a defective DNA repair mechanism).

Checking your Skin for Different Types of Skin Cancer

Regularly checking your skin for any irregularities can help detect any warning signs of skin cancers.

After bathing, it is best to assess your body for the presence of a new mole, red or darker skin patch that may be raised, changes in the size, shape, colour, or feel of your mole, a sore that doesn’t heal, or anything that seems suspicious in your skin.

Have someone regularly check the back of your body and places you cannot see (or take photos) but if you have any risk factors for skin cancer, it is best to have a Medical Professional check you regularly each year – ideally someone who focuses on identifying and treating skin cancers.

Understanding Your Skin

The skin is considered as the body’s “shield” from heat, injury as well as infection. It also protects the body from harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. In addition to this, the skin plays a pivotal role in the hydration and regulation of body heat by storing water and fat.

The skin is divided into two primary layers known as:

  • Epidermis: The skin’s top layer and is composed of flat cells known as squamous cells. Below these cells are round cells known as basal cells. Scattered among the basal cells are melanocytes, which are located in the deepest part of the epidermis.
  • Dermis: This is the layer under the dermis which contains blood and lymph vessels, and glands.

There are sub-layers within the dermis and epidermis.

Cells are the building blocks of our tissues.  Cancer involves the altered or uncontrolled division of abnormal cells.

Abnormal cell growth can take many different forms and impact many different cells in the body.

Normally, cells grow and divide to form new cells (which make up tissues).  This is often a normal renewal process or occurs in response to different body stimuli such as injury. But sometimes this process is altered. The cells divide rapidly, resulting in the formation of extra cells, which might end up forming a mass or tissue that is called “a growth” or tumor.


See a Skin Cancer Expert if you notice any skin changes including mole changes, texture changes, growths or thickening of the skin. If any abnormal growths, texture changes or lesions occur in the cells of the skin, it’s potentially skin cancer, and should be checked immediately by a qualified Medical Professional who focuses on skin cancer identification and treatments.

Not all tumors or growths are cancerous but only a medical professional can assess the growth properly so medical attention is mandatory. Better safe than sorry.

Types of Skin Cancer and Where They Show Up on Your Body Image for Skin Growths in Dr Mark Gittos Blog

Skin growths can be non-cancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant). Normally, benign growths are harmless and can be removed from the affected body area without growing back. On the contrary, malignant growths can be life-threatening and continue to grow back once removed.

Consult immediately with your GP or surgeon once you detect any skin abnormalities for further assessment and medical intervention.

And if you need your Skin Cancer reconstructed or excised (surgically removed with a wide margin), always consult one of the top Plastic Surgeons in New Zealand

Medical References for Types of Skin Cancer:

  1. David Schottenfeld; Joseph F. Fraumeni Jr. (24 August 2006). Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention. Oxford University Press. pp. 1196–. ISBN 978-0-19-974797-9.
  2. Keshav K Singh (4 April 2006). Oxidative Stress, Disease and Cancer. World Scientific. pp. 940–. ISBN 978-1-78326-011-9.
  3. Betty L. Gahart; Adrienne R. Nazareno (8 June 2015). 2016 Intravenous Medications: A Handbook for Nurses and Health Professionals. Elsevier Health Sciences. pp. 1028–. ISBN 978-0-323-29776-9.

Scientific Journal Articles and References for Sun Exposure and Skin Damage

About Dr Mark Gittos FRACS (Plast) – New Zealand Plastic Surgeon 

Practice locations in Herne Bay Auckland, Northland and Bay of Plenty – Kerikeri, Whangarei, New Plymouth & Tauranga

Dr Mark Gittos is a leading Specialist Plastic Surgeon and operates a practice in Herne Bay, Auckland and in the UK. The practice focuses on both surgical and non-surgical procedures, each designed to help restore, improve or change a physical characteristic or problem. The first step in every case is to talk through your personal requirements and explore all the options, before deciding on the most effective solution.

Dr Mark Gittos offers high quality, natural-looking cosmetic surgery results and is highly experienced in BreastBody and Face Surgery having performed over 4000 Surgeries in the last 26 years.  With worldwide expertise Dr Gittos is an expert in breast, face and body surgery for men & women. 

Naturally, before any treatment is begun, we will explain clearly the advantages and risk factors; so that you have the information you need to make an informed decision that is best for you. Visit the practice to find out more.


Please NOTE: Dr Gittos only performs surgery on non-smoker patients with a BMI less than 30. To check your BMI please visit the NZ Heart Foundation website. For help giving up smoking before surgery visit the Smoke Free website

Do your Research

What to Bring to your Plastic Surgeon Consultation

  • Bring a friend or relative to help discuss the information and your choices
  • Take lots of notes and read the documents provided thoroughly
  • Dress in simple clothes as you may need to undress for examination
  • Bring your medical referral and any relevant medical documents or test results

Book your Initial Surgery Consultation

  • A Referral from your GP or specialist is helpful but NOT essential – you can have a consultation without a GP Referral
  • Email us or Call on 09 529 5352 to arrange your surgeon consultation appointment.
  • Book a consultation with Dr Gittos by paying the Consultation Fee – $325 incl GST

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Send an enquiry form today or phone  09 529 5352  during Clinic Hours