Skin cancer develops when your skin cells are damaged by ultraviolet (UV) from the sun. In Australia it is estimated that two out of three people will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70. The incidence of skin cancer in Australia is the highest in the world with skin cancer rates being two to three times higher than the UK, USA and Canada.
More than 750,000 Australians are treated for one or more non-melanoma skin cancers a year. Non-melanoma skin cancers are more common on men than women. Over 12,000 Australians were diagnosed with melanoma in 2013 with over 2,000 people dying from skin cancer in 2014. Of these skin cancer deaths, over 1,400 deaths were from melanoma skin cancers.
What types of skin cancer are there?
The three different types of skin cancer include:
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) develops in the basal cells (the lowest layer of the skin) and is the most common type of skin cancer that usually occurs on the upper body. This type of skin cancer is usually red and slightly raised with scaly areas that over time can become ulcerated. If these areas get knocked they can bleed.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) develops in the squamous cells (the upper layer of the skin). If this type of skin cancer is not treated quickly, it will grow and spread over a period of weeks or months. Usually this skin cancer forms on skin that has been exposed to the sun, including the head, hands, forearms and neck. Squamous Cell Carcinoma looks like thickened, red and scaly spots.
Melanoma is the most life threatening type of skin cancer and is usually associated with a history of sunburns. It is important to note that even mild sunburn can lead to skin cell damage that results in melanoma developing.
Melanoma appears as a new or existing spot, mole or freckle that changes shape, colour and size. It usually has smudgy, irregular outlines and can be more than one colour. While melanoma develops over a period of weeks to months, if it is caught early, it is usually curable. If melanoma spreads to other parts of your body, a cure is very difficult.
With the highest skin cancer rates in the world, anyone living in Australia can be at risk of developing skin cancer. Most skin cancers are caused by exposure to UV radiation from the sun. The risk of developing skin cancer increases as you age.
Skin cancer causes include:
Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer with 95% of melanomas caused by sunburn. In Australia, it is estimated that at least 1 in 8 adults and 1 in 5 teenagers get sunburnt during an average summer weekend.
It is important to note that sunburn can occur on cooler or overcast days. Even if the temperature is cool, UV radiation can still damage your skin. Sun exposure that doesn’t result in burning can still cause damage to skin cells and increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Research shows that regular exposure to UV radiation as you age can lead to skin cancer.
Many Australians still refer to a ‘healthy tan’ as a symbol of good health and wellbeing. It is important to note that skin tanning is a sign that you have been exposed to enough UV radiation to damage your skin. This sun damage eventually results in loss of elasticity (leading to wrinkles and fine lines) wrinkles), sagging skin, yellow and brown patches and discolouration to appear on your skin.
While commercial solariums have been banned in all states in Australia, some people are still using them. Studies show that people who use a solarium before the age of 35 have a 59% greater risk of melanoma than people who have not used solariums
The quicker a skin cancer is recognised and treated, the better your chance of avoiding surgery, potential disfigurement or even death (in the case of melanoma).
To pick up any changes in your skin that may suggest a skin cancer, it is important to become familiar with the look of your skin. The ABCDE system of skin cancer checks is helpful:
If you have a skin cancer, they are almost always removed. However, if you have a more advanced skin cancer, you may need to have some of the surrounding tissue removed. This will ensure that all cancerous cells have been removed. If you need surgery to remove a skin cancer it will usually be performed under a local anaesthetic.
Common skin cancers can also be treated using:
Depending on the skin cancer treatment you have had, your treatment team may comprise a number of medical staff including a:
If you are living in Australia, it is very important that you become familiar with your skin on your entire body – not just the parts that are exposed to the sun.
Do you have a spot, mole or freckle that you are worried about? Contact us here for a skin cancer consultation.