Non-melanoma skin cancer

At a glance

  • There are different kinds of non-melanoma skin cancer: basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer.
  • Non-melanoma skin cancer is more common than melanoma, but it's less dangerous.
  • The main risk factors are too much UV light, skin type and age.
  • The best way to prevent non-melanoma skin cancer is not to spend too much time in the sun without protection.
  • In Germany, statutory health insurers cover the costs of skin cancer screening every two years in people aged 35 and over.
  • Doctors will remove the abnormal area of skin if they think you may have non-melanoma skin cancer or if it’s diagnosed.


Photo of a mother and daughter at the park

Basal cell carcinoma (basal cell cancer) and squamous cell carcinoma (squamous cell cancer) are collectively referred to as non-melanoma skin cancer. This is to distinguish them from melanomas, which often look like dark moles.

Non-melanoma skin cancer is much more common than melanoma. But non-melanoma skin cancer can usually be fully removed, and it only rarely spreads to other parts of the body.


Non-melanoma cancer can take on very different forms so it can have a number of different symptoms too: The affected area of skin may become scaly, lumpy, or change color. This makes it difficult to tell the difference between non-melanoma skin cancer and other spots or blotches on your skin. Non-melanoma skin cancer mainly develops on the parts of the skin that are often exposed to sunlight, such as the scalp or around the neckline.

People sometimes notice non-melanoma skin cancer because an area of skin is itchy or starts to bleed. Non-melanoma skin cancer doesn't cause any other symptoms for a long time. But if it grows larger, penetrates deeper into the tissue or spreads inside the body, it causes other symptoms – mostly pain.

Causes and risk factors

Various factors can increase your risk of developing non-melanoma skin cancer. Overexposure to sunlight is the main risk factor, but people with certain skin types or medical conditions are more prone too.

The risk of getting non-melanoma skin cancer increases with age. The average age of people diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma is about 60, and for squamous cell carcinoma it's 70.


Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are among the most common types of cancer. In Germany in 2018, about 224 out of 100,000 women and 57 out of 100,000 men developed one of these two types of cancer. So men are slightly more likely to get non-melanoma skin cancer. A total of about 200,000 people were diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer in Germany in 2018.


Basal cell carcinoma grows slowly and usually doesn't spread to other organs (metastasis). But if it goes unnoticed for a long time, it can enter deeper layers of tissue, and is then more difficult to treat. About 1 out of 1,000 people who develop basal cell carcinoma die of it.

Squamous cell carcinoma is more aggressive. It also grows in the area where it develops, gradually destroying tissue near to it. If left untreated, there is a danger that the cancer might spread to other parts of the body. About 40 to 50 out of 1,000 people with squamous cell cancer die of it.


Doctors can often tell whether you have non-melanoma skin cancer just by looking at your skin. To examine it more closely, they need an instrument called a dermatoscope. This is a very powerful magnifying glass with a light on it.

If doctors think you may have non-melanoma skin cancer, they will remove the abnormal area of skin and some surrounding tissue. Sometimes they will first check whether it really is non-melanoma skin cancer. This involves taking a tissue sample (biopsy) and examining it under a microscope. Further examinations like an ultrasound scan of neighboring lymph nodes are usually only needed if it is thought that the cancer may have spread.


Skin cancer is aimed at large numbers of people who have not yet been diagnosed with this disease. In Germany, skin cancer focuses on people aged 35 and over. Statutory health insurers then offer to cover the costs of this examination every two years. The idea is to detect pre-cancerous changes in the skin and discover tumors before they can invade nearby tissue or spread to other parts of the body (metastasis). The ultimate aim is to provide better treatment and increase the chances of a full recovery.

In skin cancer screening, a doctor takes a close look at your skin from head to toe. For the examination to be thorough, he or she should also look at skin folds and mucous membranes.

Aside from skin cancer , you can also look out for changes in your skin yourself and have a doctor examine any abnormal areas.


There is no surefire way to prevent non-melanoma skin cancer. It is generally sensible to avoid overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. This mainly means not spending too much time in the sun without protection and not using tanning beds.


Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma can often be fully removed in a minor operation, particularly when discovered at an early stage. If skin cancer can no longer be surgically removed, radiotherapy or medication are considered. If the tumor has invaded deeper layers of tissue, more major interventions are necessary.

Further information

Squamous cell carcinoma and the abnormal changes in the skin that can lead to it – known as actinic keratosis – have been acknowledged as occupational diseases since early 2015. People who spend a lot of time being exposed to UV light because they work outdoors are more likely to develop this type of non-melanoma cancer.

You can find information about using tanning beds on the website of the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection (Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz, or BfS).

When people are ill or need medical advice, they usually go to see their family doctor first. In our topic "Health care in Germany" you can read about how to find the right doctor – and our list of questions can help you to prepare for your visit to the doctor.

Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Wissenschaftlichen Medizinischen Fachgesellschaften (AWMF), Deutsche Krebsgesellschaft (DKG), Deutsche Krebshilfe (DKH). S3-Leitlinie Prävention von Hautkrebs. AWMF-Registernr.: 032-052OL. 2021.

Dellavalle R. Skin cancer, moles, and actinic keratosis. In: Williams H, Bigby M, Herxheimer A et al (Ed). Edvidence-based dermatology. London: BMJ Books; 2014. S. 223-319.

Deutsche Krebsgesellschaft (DKG), Deutsche Krebshilfe (DKH), Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Wissenschaftlichen Medizinischen Fachgesellschaften (AWMF). Aktinische Keratose und Plattenepithelkarzinom der Haut (S3-Leitlinie). AWMF-Registernr: 032-022OL. 2020.

Gemeinsamer Bundesausschuss (G-BA). Hautkrebsscreening. Zusammenfassende Dokumentation des Unterausschusses „Prävention“ des Gemeinsamen Bundesausschusses. 2008.

German Federal Office for Radiation Protection. Optical radiation: Sunbeds. 2022.

Robert Koch-Institut (RKI), Gesellschaft der epidemiologischen Krebsregister in Deutschland (GEKID). Krebs in Deutschland für 2017/2018. 2021.

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

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Updated on July 12, 2022

Next planned update: 2025


Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

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