Types of skin cancer on the nose

Updated July 19, 2017

The face, especially the nose, is particularly vulnerable to cancer because it is exposed to the sun more than other parts of the body. People with fair skin are most likely to develop cancer, but those with dark skin are not immune. Sun damages the skin, resulting in precancerous lesions, such as actinic keratoses, which may be raised, scaly or crusty lesions that can progress to cancerous lesions, or basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma. Also, moles can develop into melanoma.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of nose cancer and is directly related to sun exposure. Lesions often begin as small translucent waxy-appearing nodules that later ulcerate from the centre outward and crust over. Basal cell carcinoma might vary in appearance from red to pink to brown, grey or black. This type of cancer rarely metastasises to other areas of your body, but it does tend to recur at the site and can erode the tissue and nose cartilage, resulting in loss of your nose or considerable deformity.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common cancer affecting the nose, and it is more malignant than basal cell carcinoma. Squamous cell carcinoma is also related to sun damage. The appearance of your lesion might vary from wart-like to crusted to open and ulcerated. Most lesions remain localised, but about 3 per cent metastasise, so complete removal is important. Squamous cell carcinoma is most common in fair-skinned males, but the incidence in women has increased markedly in the past few decades.

Malignant Melanoma

Melanoma is one of the most malignant forms of skin cancer and directly relates to presence of moles and sun exposure. Melanoma can occur anywhere on your body, but melanoma of the face and nose is more common in males than females. Melanoma arises from melanocytes, pigment containing cells, and appear as misshapen or irregular moles more than 0.5cm in diameter. Early diagnosis is critical because lesions with a depth of more than 1.5mm have a high risk of metastasis and death. Previous skin cancer of any type increases the risk of developing melanoma.

Treatment Options

Basal cell carcinoma is treated with topical chemotherapy, cryosurgery, photodynamic (laser) therapy or surgical excision, depending upon the size and location. Squamous cell carcinoma is treated more aggressively with cryosurgery, photodynamic therapy or surgical excision. Those who can't tolerate other treatments might be treated with radiotherapy. Melanoma must be surgically excised, often followed by chemotherapy, depending on the grade of the lesion.


The best treatment for cancer of the nose is prevention. You should avoid excessive exposure to the sun, use sunscreen and have any abnormalities or unusual lesions checked by a physician.

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About the Author

Wanda Lockwood has an R.N., a B.A. in humanities, and M.A.s in TESOL from Monterey Institute of International studies and humanities from California State University, Dominguez Hills. She has worked as a medical writer for six years, writing more than 100 continuing education courses for nurses and writing and editing medical study materials.