Skin cancer occurs when skin cells are damaged, for example, by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
Every year, in Australia:
•skin cancers account for around 80% of all newly diagnosed cancers
•between 95 and 99% of skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun
•GPs have over 1 million patient consultations per year for skin cancer
•the incidence of skin cancer is one of the highest in the world, two to three times the rates in Canada, the US and the UK.
There are three main types of skin cancer:
•melanoma – the most dangerous form of skin cancer
•basal cell carcinoma*
•squamous cell carcinoma*
*Both basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are known as non-melanoma skin cancer.
Basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common but least dangerous type of skin cancer. About three in four skin cancers in Australia are BCCs.
BCC generally affects adults with fair skin who have had a lot of sun exposure, or repeated cases of sunburn, over the course of their lives.
Unlike squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), which often arises within pre-existing sun spots, BCC generally develops in otherwise normal looking skin.BCCs typically appear as small, round lumps that are red, pale or pearly in colour. In some cases, they may also appear as a small area of red and scaly skin, similar to a patch of eczema.
BCCs tend to grow slowly, often over months or even years, and rarely spread to other parts of the body. They occur most often on the head, neck and upper torso, though they may appear on other parts of the body.
BCC is more common in the elderly, however some Australians will develop BCC in their twenties and thirties.
Squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a less common but more dangerous type of skin cancer than BCC.
SCCs generally arise within areas of sun spots and tend to appear as red, thickened, scaly spots which may bleed or ulcerate. They grow over weeks or months and can spread to lymph nodes and other parts of the body if not treated quickly.
SCCs most often appear on the head, neck, hands and forearms, though can grow on other parts of the body too.
SCC rarely presents in Australians under 40 years of age, and is more common in older age groups.
Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer.
It represents 10% of all cancers in Australia, with more than 10,300 cases diagnosed annually.
Melanoma usually occurs on parts of the skin that have been sun damaged. However, it can sometimes appear on skin or other parts of the body that have never been exposed to the sun.
In most cases, melanomas appear as a flat spot on the skin that changes in colour, shape and/or size over a period of time. If left untreated, this flat spot may become bigger, irregular in shape and darker in colour.
Melanoma is diagnosed more often in older adults with fair complexions but can occur in younger adults and teenagers.
Symptoms and diagnosis
The sooner a skin cancer is identified and treated, the better your chance of avoiding surgery or, in the case of a serious melanoma or other skin cancer, potential disfigurement or even death.
It is also a good idea to talk to your doctor about your level of risk and for advice on early detection.
Visit The Cancer Council Website here.