Skin cancer occurs when skin cells are damaged, most commonly by UV radiation, and grow in an uncontrolled abnormal way. 80% of all cancers diagnosed in Australia are skin cancers. By the age of 70, 2 out of every 3 Australians will have been diagnosed with skin cancer.
The 3 most common types of skin cancer are
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) and Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) are sometimes also referred to as Non-Melanoma Skin Cancers (NMSCs).
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
BCCs make up the majority of skin cancers. They tend to grow slowly, can ulcerate or bleed, but rarely spread to other areas of the body. The earlier a BCC is found and diagnosed the easier it is to manage. However, if left untreated, BCCs can be locally destructive, grow deeper into surrounding tissues and treatment can be more difficult. Some BCCs can be treated with topical ointments and some with surgery. The diagnosis of BCC is confirmed with a biopsy.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
SCCs, which make up 30% of NMSCs, are usually quicker growing. They appear in the areas of the body that have had the most sun exposure. They can gown over a period of weeks to months. If left untreated they can spread to other areas of the body. Most SCCs are treated with surgical excision. The diagnosis of SCC is confirmed with a biopsy. Squamous Cell Carcinoma in-situ or Bowen’s disease is an early form of skin cancer which if left untreated can develop into an invasive SCC. It is diagnosed with a biopsy and can often be treated with a topical ointment.
Melanoma is less common, accounting for approximately 2% of all skin cancers. In 2016 over 14,000 cases of melanoma were diagnosed in Australia. It can spread to other areas of the body such as lymph nodes, brain and liver. The earlier melanoma is found, the more successful treatment can be. Surgery is the mainstay of treatment but additional treatments may be required if the melanoma is more advanced. Additional investigations and treatments will be discussed at consultation. Melanoma is diagnosed with an excision biopsy.
Prevention through education, sun awareness, UV protection, early detection and appropriate management is the most important part of skin cancer treatment. For more information visit The Cancer Council website.