What is Skin Cancer

Skin Cancer is the most common form of cancer in Australia, accounting for 80% of all new cancers diagnosed each year.

There are three main types of skin cancer:

  • Basal Cell Carcinoma
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma
  • Melanoma

Basal Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma are the most common types of skin cancer and are sometimes call non-melanoma skin cancer. These types of skin cancers are slow growing and easily treated.

They rarely lead to death but if left untreated these cancers can cause massive destruction at the site of the tumour and may spread in some cases.

Melanoma is the least common of the three types, but the most dangerous.

Melanoma usually begins as a new small spot, mole or freckle that changes colour, shape or thickness over months.

They can also develop in already existing moles and in other parts of the body, such as the eye or mouth and they can progress to internal organs and cause death if not diagnosed and removed early in their development.

  • Basal Cell Carcinoma
  • Cancer
  • Complaints
  • Melanoma
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma
  • The Skin

Risk factors

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in Australia with statistics showing that one in every two people will develop some sort of skin cancer in their lifetime.

Each year, over 380,000 Australians are treated for the disease and over 1,400 people die from it.

There are three main types, Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC), Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) and Melanoma.

BCC accounts for about 70-85% of all diagnosed skin cancers. It is the most common, but least dangerous form of skin cancer.

SCC accounts for about 15-20% of all diagnosed skin cancers and is more dangerous than BCC.

Melanoma is the least common of the three, accounting for less than 5% of all diagnosed skin cancers each year, but it is the most dangerous because it can spread to other parts of the body very quickly and further tumours can develop. It is the cause of most skin cancer deaths if not detected early.

One of the major causes of skin cancer is over-exposure to the sun. Most Australians will have developed irreversible skin damage by the time they are 15 years old.

All it takes is one blistering sunburn to more than double a person’s risk of skin cancer later in life.

Fortunately, with current methods of treating the disease, skin cancer is now almost always curable if detected early enough.

Under these squamous cells are round cells call basal cells and also, cells called melanocytes that make the pigment (colour) called melanin found in skin. When skin is exposed to sunlight our melanocytes produce more melanin and our skin tans.

The dermis is underneath the epidermis.

The dermis contains blood vessels, lymph vessels, nerves, glands that make sweat, which help cool the body, and some glands that make sebum, an oily substance that stops the skin from drying.

The sweat and sebum reach the surface of the skin through pores.

  • Tanning
  • UV Radiation
  • Who is at risk?


Spending time outdoors does wonders for the body and mind. It is important to remember though, that you skin needs protection from the outdoor elements, especially the sun.

Protecting ourselves against the sun isn’t just about not getting a painful sunburn. Sun damage causes the skin to age prematurely, leading to wrinkles, spots and dry and leathery textured skin, but worst of all, it can lead to skin cancer.

Most people generally believe they are sun smart. They know to protect themselves against skin cancer when they are going to be in the sun for a long period of time, like when they go to the beach or pool in summer.

What most people don’t do is protect themselves against the harmful rays of the sun in their everyday activities.

Exposure to the sun day after day adds up, for example, when gardening, riding a bike, walking to school, going to a football game or driving to and from work in your car. It is important that people realise this and get into a routine of protecting themselves everyday.

  • Protecting the kids
  • Protecting your skin
  • Self examination
  • Sunscreen


There is no single method to treat all skin cancers and precancerous lesions. Choice of method is dictated by the size of the lesion, its location, its type (often confirmed by biopsy), and whether it is a primary or recurrent lesion. Also considered is the patient’s age, health, occupation and preference for treatment method.

  • Surgery – lowest recurrence rate, best long term cosmetic result
  • Cryotherapy – good for small lesions, pre-maligant or sun spots
  • Non-surgical treatments – PDT, Aldara, Efudex
  • Radiotherapy – low efficacy
  • Chemotherapy – low efficacy
  • Palliative care

Digital diagnostic computers including Molescans, Solarscans etc. are computers that indicate if the structure of a lesion is similar to a known cancerous structure. These computers need doctors to use them and interpret their recommendations.

Because of the atypical nature of skin cancers the machines have less than a perfect efficacy rating.

  • Biopsy
  • Cryotherapy

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