Basal & squamous cell carcinoma

At the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre we know that a cancer diagnosis is a life changing event. We also know that every cancer is different, just like every person is different. We are dedicated to supporting and guiding you throughout your care. On this page you can learn about symptoms of basal & squamous cell carcinoma and the potential treatment pathway.

website1400x900_0022_5 website1400x900_0004_25 website1400x900_0018_10

What is basal & squamous cell carcinoma?

There are three main types of skin cancer – melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. All of these develop due to uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. Basal and squamous cell carcinoma are more common than melanoma but are less likely to spread beyond the skin’s surface if caught early.

Basal cells

Our skin has a top layer called the epidermis that is made up of three types of cells. The lower layer of the epidermis is made of tall cells called basal cells. These are the cells that can develop into basal cell carcinoma.

Squamous cells

The layer above it, the bit that we can see, is made of flat cells called squamous cells. These cells may develop into squamous cell carcinoma.


The third type of cell makes melanin, the pigment that gives us tans and forms moles. These are called malanocytes and are the cells that can develop into melanoma.

Where basal & squamous cell carcinoma occurs

Basal cell carcinoma is more common than squamous cell carcinoma but the treatment and usual locations of each are similar. Both are likely to occur in areas that have had most exposure to the sun. These include the face, hands, neck, arms, shoulders and lower legs.

What are the symptoms of basal cell carcinoma?

Basal cell carcinoma usually grows slowly, commonly doesn’t spread to other parts of the body and often doesn’t have symptoms. Although basal cell carcinoma often doesn’t spread, the chances of it growing deeper and moving to other parts of the body increases as the affected area gets larger. This might make it more difficult to treat. Basal cell carcinoma can form on multiple parts of the body at once.

If you have any of the following symptoms please see your doctor. These symptoms may also occur for ailments other than cancer. Your doctor will advise if you need tests and where you should go to have these tests.



What are the symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma?

Squamous cell carcinoma grows more quickly than basal cell carcinoma. It is also more likely to spread to other parts of the body. Symptoms include:


  • A fast growing lump on the skin
  • A thickened, red scaly spot. It might look like a sore that doesn’t heal
  • It may be feel sore or delicate when you touch it
  • A pearly lump on the skin
  • A shiny, scaly dry area on skin that is pale or bright pink
  • This area may get swollen and bleed
This information should not be used to replace medical advice.

Can I be treated at the ONJ Centre?

Once you have been diagnosed with cancer, your doctor or specialist can make a referral to the ONJ Centre for your cancer treatment. You can ask to be referred here, regardless of your insurance status or the stage of your treatment. The ONJ Centre is part of Austin Health, a leading Australian public hospital.

how to get a referral