Skin cancer occurs when skin cells are damaged, as an example, from overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
There are 3 main types of skin cancer:
• Squamous cell carcinoma
• Melanoma – the most dangerous form of membrane cancer
Both basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are known as non-melanoma membrane cancer.
Two in three Australians will be diagnosed with membrane cancer by the time they are 70, with more than 434,000 people treated for one or more non-melanoma membrane cancers in Australia annually. Non-melanoma skin cancer is more common in men, with nearly double the incidence in comparison with women.
Excluding non-melanoma skin cancer,* melanoma is the third most frequent cancer in Australian women and the fourth most frequent cancer in men, and the most common cancer in Australians aged 15-44 years.
Each Year, in Australia:
• skin cancers account for around 80 percent of all newly diagnosed cancers
• between 95 and 99% of skin cancers are caused by exposure to sunlight
• GPs have over 1 million patient consultations per year for skin cancer
• The incidence of skin cancer is among the highest in the world, two to three times the rates in Canada, the US and the United Kingdom.
*Non-melanoma skin cancers are not notified to cancer registries.
Check for signs of skin cancer
The sooner a skin cancer is identified and treated, the better your chance of avoiding surgery or, in the event 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 also for advice on early detection.
It is important to get to know your skin and what is normal for you, so you notice any changes. Skin cancers rarely hurt and are much more often seen than felt.
Develop a routine habit of checking your skin for new stains and adjustments to existing freckles or moles.
The best way to check your skin
• be sure you check your whole body as skin cancers can sometimes occur in areas of the body not exposed to sunlight, for example soles of their feet, between fingers and toes and under nails.
• Undress completely and ensure you have good light.
• Use a mirror to test hard to find spots, like your back and scalp, or get a relative, partner or friend to check it for you.
There are three main forms of skin cancer- melanoma (including nodular melanoma), basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
• Most deadly form of skin cancer.
• If left untreated can spread to other parts of the body.
• Appears as a new spot or an existing place that changes in colour, size or shape.
Can appear on skin not normally exposed to the sun.
• appears different from common melanomas. Raised and even in colour.
• Many are red or pink and some are brown or black.
• They are firm to touch and dome-shaped.
• After a while they begin to bleed and crust
• Most common, least dangerous form of skin cancer.
• Red, pale or pearly in colour, appears as a bulge or dry, scaly area.
• May ulcerate or neglect to completely heal.
• Grows slowly, usually on regions that are frequently exposed to sunlight.
Squamous cell carcinoma
• A thickened, red scaly spot that may bleed easily, crust or ulcerate.
• Grows over a few months, usually on areas frequently exposed to the sun.
• More likely to happen in people over 50 years old.
ABCD melanoma detection guide
A is for Asymmetry – Look for spots that lack symmetry. In other words, if a line was drawn through the middle, the two sides would not match up.
B is for Border – A place with a dispersing or irregular edge (notched).
C is for Colour – Blotchy spots using numerous colours such as black, blue, red, white and/or grey.
D is for Diameter – Look for stains which are getting bigger.
These are a few changes to look out for when assessing your skin for signs of any cancer:
• New moles.
• A summary of a mole that becomes notched.
• An area that changes color from brown to black or is varied.
• A place that becomes raised or develops a lump within it.
• The surface of a mole getting rough, scaly or ulcerated.
• Moles that itch or tingle.
• Moles that bleed or weep.
• Spots that appears different from others.
Mole or skin cancer?
Almost all people have moles. Moles are not normally present at birth, but look in childhood and early adolescent years. By the age of 15, Australian children have an average of more than 50 moles.
See your physician if a mole looks different or if a new mole appears after the age of 25. The more moles a person have, the higher the risk of melanoma.
• Harmless colored spots that range from 1mm to 10mm.
• Uniform in shape and even coloured. May be raised.
• The more moles or freckles you have the higher your risk of skin cancer.
• May have uneven borders and multiple colours like black and brown.
• Observe moles carefully for any sign of change.
Even though you may notice one or more skin changes, it does not necessarily indicate that you have skin cancer however it is important that you see your GP to have them investigated further. Your GP can talk about your skin cancer risk and advise you on your requirement for medical checks or self-examination.
It can be difficult to know whether something in your skin is a harmless mole or normal sun damage, or a sign of cancer. When in doubt, talk to your GP.
What’s my skin type?
Skin types that are more sensitive to ultraviolet (UV) radiation burn more quickly and are at a greater risk of skin cancer.
All skin types can be ruined by too much UV radiation. Skin types which are more sensitive to UV radiation burn faster and are at a greater risk of skin cancer.
People with naturally very dark skin (usually skin type V or VI) still need to take care in the sun even though they may rarely, if ever, get sunburnt. The larger quantity of melanin in very dark skin offers natural protection from UV radiation. This means the possibility of skin cancer is lower.
High levels of UV radiation also have been linked to harmful effects on the immune system.
Individuals with very dark skin do not typically have to apply sunscreen (but this remains a personal decision) but they should wear hats or sunglasses to protect their eyes.
Vitamin D deficiency may be a greater health concern for individuals with naturally very dark skin, as it is more difficult for people with this skin type to generate vitamin D. People with naturally darker skin may need up to three to six times more sun exposure to aid with their vitamin D levels.
Tends to have freckles, red or fair hair, blue or green eyes.
usually burns, sometimes tans. Tends to have light hair, blue or brown eyes.
sometimes burns, usually tans. Tends to have brown eyes and hair.
Rarely burns, often tans. Tends to have dark brown hair and eyes.
Dark brown skin. Rarely burns, tans profusely.
Deeply pigmented, dark brown to black skin. Never burns.