What is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer occurs when the cells of the skin are damaged and begin to grow abnormally, usually from too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds. In Australia, the incidence of skin cancer is one of the highest in the world, 2-3 times greater than that of the US and the UK.
Skin cancer is a type of cancer that develops when there is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the skin. It is primarily caused by excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or artificial sources like tanning beds. The abnormal growth of the skin cells forms a tumour in the skin, which can be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
What types of Skin Cancer are there?
There are 3 main types of skin cancers, named for the type of skin cell in which they develop:
- Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) – starts in the lower layer of the dermis and contributes to approximately 70% of all non-melanoma skin cancers. BCC grows slowly over several months or years and can cause damage to nearby tissue if left untreated. The earlier it is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat. BCC rarely spreads to other parts of the body.
- Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) – starts in the upper layer of the dermis and contributes to approximately 30% of non-melanoma skin cancers. SCC can spread to other parts of the body if left untreated, SCC on the lips or ears are a higher risk and should be examined by a doctor as soon as possible. SCC in situ, or Bowen disease, is an early form of SCC that appears red and scaly. This may develop into an invasive SCC if left untreated so should be examined by a doctor as soon as possible.
- Melanoma – starts in the melanocyte cells of the skin, the cells that give your skin its colour. Melanoma is less common than non-melanoma skin cancers but is considered the most serious form of skin cancer. This is due to its increased risk of spreading to other areas of the body (metastasis) such as lymph nodes, lungs, liver, brain, and bones.
There are other types of skin cancer, such as Merkel cell carcinoma and angiosarcoma, but they are rare. Please visit the Cancer Council website for more information on these.
Signs and symptoms
You should become familiar with your skin, spots, and moles so that if any changes do occur you can pick them up. Keep an eye out for any crusty, non-healing sores, small lumps that are red, pale, or pearly in colour and any new spots, freckles or moles that change in colour, thickness, or shape over time. There are certain characteristics to look for, we recommend using the ABCDE method of checking your skin:
Asymmetry — does each side of the spot or mole look different to the other?
Border — is it irregular, jagged, or spreading?
Colours — are there several, or is the colour uneven or blotchy?
Diameter — look for spots that are getting bigger. Melanoma growths are often greater than 6mm, which is roughly the size of a standard pencil eraser.
Evolution — is the spot or mole changing or growing over time? Look for changes in size, shape, and colour.
If you notice any of the ABCDEs of melanoma, book an appointment with Dr Tina Fang right away for a skin check on 07 3852 4878. It is recommended that adults check their own skin every 3 months and see a doctor for a full skin examination once a year. Dr Tina Fang offers bulk-billed full skin examinations, just let reception know the nature of your appointment.
Anyone can be at risk of developing skin cancer, but the risk increases with age. In Australia, most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to UV radiation from the sun, although it can also be caused by non-natural sources such as sun beds (solariums). Factors that influence your risk of getting skin cancer are:
- Actively tan or use sun beds
- Work, play sports or spend leisure time in the sun
- Family history of skin cancer
- Fair or freckled skin that burns easily
- Red or fair coloured hair, light coloured eyes
Skin Cancer Prevention
Skin cancer can be almost entirely prevented with sun-safe practices. When UV levels are 3 or above, we recommend implementing these measures:
- Slip on sun-protective clothing (cover as much skin as possible)
- Slop on broad-spectrum, SPF30 sunscreen. Apply 20 minutes before sun exposure and reapply every 2 hours. If reapplying during the day is not feasible due to makeup or other reasons, consider using a mineral sunscreen containing titanium oxide or zinc oxide that creates a physical barrier to reflect the UV radiation
- Slap on a hat that shades your face, neck, and ears
- Seek shade
- Slide on sunglasses
- Stay away from sun lamps, solariums, and sun beds
Skin Cancer Treatments
Addressing skin cancer involves a range of treatments tailored to the type, stage, and location of the cancer. Early detection and intervention significantly improve outcomes. Here are some key treatments:
- Skin Checks: Regular skin checks by dermatologists or qualified healthcare professionals are crucial for early detection. They can identify suspicious moles or lesions that may warrant further investigation.
- Prevention: Sun protection measures, such as wearing sunscreen, protective clothing, and avoiding excessive sun exposure, play a vital role in preventing skin cancer. Education on sun safety is paramount.
- Mole Removal: Suspicious moles or lesions may be removed and biopsied to determine if they are cancerous. Early mole removal can be curative for certain types of skin cancer.
- Photodynamic Therapy (PDT): PDT involves using a photosensitising agent and specific wavelengths of light to treat precancerous and cancerous lesions. It’s particularly effective for superficial skin cancers.
- Laser Therapy: Lasers can be used to treat specific types of skin cancer, particularly superficial basal cell carcinomas. The laser targets and destroys cancer cells while minimising damage to surrounding tissue.
- Medications: Topical or systemic medications may be prescribed for certain types of skin cancer. Immunotherapy drugs, targeted therapy, and chemotherapy are options depending on the diagnosis.
It’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for your specific situation. For the most accurate and up-to-date information, please consult reputable skin doctor or your healthcare provider.
- Cancer Council, Skin Cancer – https://www.cancer.org.au/cancer-information/types-of-cancer/skin-cancer accessed 23rd June 2021
- Cancer Council, Melanoma – https://www.cancervic.org.au/cancer-information/types-of-cancer/melanoma/melanoma-overview.html accessed 23rd June 2021
- Cancer Council, Check for signs of skin cancer – https://www.cancer.org.au/cancer-information/causes-and-prevention/sun-safety/check-for-signs-of-skin-cancer accessed 23rd June 2021
- Health Direct, Skin Cancer and Melanoma – https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/skin-cancer-and-melanomasaccessed 23rd June 2021