Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. It is the most common of all cancers. Australia has the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world, more than two-thirds of the Australian population will develop a skin cancer of some kind during their lives.
Skin cancer needs to be treated promptly as it can be just as life threatening as any other cancer if left untreated. The danger of skin cancer is that it can spread (metastasise) to other parts of the body if treatment is not undertaken.
What are the main types of skin cancer?
- Basal cell carcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma
The first two are often called “non-melanoma skin cancer”.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) is by far the most common type of skin cancer. Fortunately, it’s also the least dangerous. Three-quarters of Australians who have skin cancer have BCC. It tends to grow slowly, and rarely spreads beyond its original site. However, if left untreated, it can grow deep beneath the skin and into the underlying tissue and bone, causing serious damage, particularly if it is located near the eye.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is faster growing than Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC). Of those Australians with skin cancer, about 2 in 10 have a SCC. It frequently appears on the head, neck, hands and forearms, which typically receive more sunlight.SCC is more dangerous than BCC because it can spread to other parts of the body if not treated promptly. SC can become life threatening if left untreated.
SCC looks like a red scaly spot or lump and is usually thickened. It can bleed easily and may ulcerate. It is usually tender to the touch.
Although melanoma is usually highly malignant, it occurs in only about 5 people out of 100 with skin cancer. Melanoma can usually be treated successfully if diagnosed early. If it’s not treated quickly, however, malignant melanoma may spread throughout the body and is often deadly. Malignant melanoma can occur on any part of the body, including areas that have not been exposed to the sun. In women, it is more common in the arms and legs, and in men on the face, back and chest. About half of all cases of melanoma develop from moles. The other half develop on previously normal skin as a new lesion.