Non-melanomatous skin cancers (NMSCs), which include basal and squamous cell carcinoma (BCC and SCC respectively), represent a significant burden on the population, as well as an economic load to the health care system; yet treatments of these preventable cancers remain ineffective. Studies estimate that there has been a 2-fold increase in the incidence of NMSCs between the 1960s and 1980s. The increase in cases of NMSCs, as well as the lack of effective treatments, makes the need for novel therapeutic approaches all the more necessary. To rationally develop more targeted treatments for NMSCs, a better understanding of the cell of origin, in addition to the underlying pathophysiological mechanisms that govern the development of these cancers, is urgently required. Research over the past few years has provided data supporting both a “bottom up” and “top down” mechanism of tumourigenesis. The “bottom up” concept involves a cancer stem cell originating in the basal compartment of the skin, which ordinarily houses the progenitor cells that contribute towards wound healing and normal cell turnover of overlying epidermal skin layers. The “top down” concept involves a more differentiated cell undergoing genetic modifications leading to dedifferentiation, giving rise to cancer initiating cells (CICs). This review explores both concepts, to paint a picture of the skin SCC cell of origin, the underlying biology, and also how this knowledge might be exploited to develop novel therapies.
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