If non-melanoma skin cancer spreads

Cancer cells can spread from the skin to other parts of the body. This spread is called metastasis. But most non-melanoma skin cancers do not spread to other parts of the body.

Understanding how a type of cancer usually grows and spreads helps your healthcare team plan your treatment and future care.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC), if left untreated, can grow into nearby skin, cartilage, bone and other tissues. In very rare cases, it may spread to nearby lymph nodes, the lungs and bone that is farther from where the cancer started.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) doesn’t usually spread to other parts of the body, but it is more likely than BCC to spread. If left untreated, SCC can grow deeper into the skin. Sometimes it can spread to nearby lymph nodes. In rare cases, it can spread to bone, the lungs or other organs.

Expert review and references

  • American Joint Committee on Cancer. AJCC Cancer Staging Handbook. 7th ed. Chicago: Springer; 2010.
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology. Skin Cancer (Non-Melanoma). 2015: http://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/skin-cancer-non-melanoma.
  • Christensen SR, Leffell DJ . Cancer of the skin. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA. Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015: 92:1314-1336.
  • Sapijaszko M, Zloty D, Bourcier M, Poulin Y, Janiszewski P, Ashkenas J . Non-melanoma skin cancer in Canada chapter 5: management of squamous cell carcinoma. Journal of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery. 2015.
  • Zloty D, Guenther LC, Sapijaszko M et al . Non-melanoma skin cancer in Canada chapter 4: management of basal cell carcinoma. Journal of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery. 2015.