Learn About Skin Cancer
Facts | Symptoms | Types | Treatment | Prevention
Facts & Stats about Skin Cancer
- At least 2 in 3 Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer before the age of 70. The risk is higher in men (2 in 3) than in women (3 in 5).
- Over 400,000 Australians are treated for skin cancer each year - over 1,000 people each day.
- Over 1800 Australians die from skin cancer each year (Latest available figures from 2009: melanoma and non-melanoma).
- Each year, many more people die from skin cancer than from road accidents in Australia.
- 67% of Australians who die from skin cancer are men.1
- Sun exposure has been identified as the cause of around 99% of non-melanoma skin cancers and 95% of melanoma in Australia.
- “Increased sun protection against sun exposure will prevent skin cancer at whatever age it is applied." p.112.4
- Each year, Australians are four times more likely to develop a common skin cancer than any other form of cancer. (NB: no updated stat in Cancer in Australia 2010)
Symptoms of Skin Cancer
Early warning signs of skin cancer can vary however some important symptoms to keep an eye out for are listed below. If in doubt have any lesion of concern checked by your GP or Dermatologist.
Melanomas may be diagnosed using the ABCDE method:
A - Asymmetry
B - Border irregularity
C - Colour variation
D - Diameter (usually over 6mm)
E - Evolution (change and growing larger)
Other skin cancers can be pink, red or skin coloured. They are commonly found on sun exposed sites like the face, neck and arms. Important signs include:
- Change in size, shape or elevation
If any of these occur it is very important to consult your GP or dermatologist as soon as possible.
Types of Skin Cancer
There are several different types of skin cancer. The three main types of skin cancer are Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) and Melanoma.
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC): Is the most common form of skin cancer and is the least dangerous. BCC's can present as a pearly surfaced, pink raised lump or as a pink-red scaly area and may ulcerate. BCC's most often occur on sun exposed areas like the head and neck although can be found anywhere on the body. Although BCC's very rarely spread to other parts of the body, early detection is important as it may allow the lesion to be treated non-surgically or with minimally invasive surgery.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC): Can be scaly or crusted lumps, pale pink to red in colour. It may be tender to touch. SCC's are found on sun exposed areas and can take weeks to several months to grow. This form of skin cancer more commonly occurs in older people. SCC's may spread to other parts of the body if not treated appropriately. Treatment is usually with surgical excision.
| ||Melanoma: Is one of the more dangerous types of skin cancer. If a melanoma is not diagnosed early it can spread around the body. Melanoma can be found anywhere on the body and even in non-exposed skin areas. They can appear as a new or changing mole and changes can be in terms of colour, shape or thickness. A rapidly growing form of melanoma is the Nodular Melanoma. Nodular Melanomas can ulcerate and bleed or can present as a raised dome shape lump coloured red, pink or black. |
Treatment of Skin Cancer
There are a number of different treatment methods available for each form of skin cancer. The treatment method used will be dependent on the type and severity of the skin cancer. Some common examples of treatments available are listed below.
- Cryotherapy involves freezing a skin lesion with liquid nitrogen
- It is generally reserved for benign lesions like solar keratoses but may be used for superficial basal cell carcinomas in some situations.
Curettage / Electrodessication
- Curettage is a surgical technique where the skin lesion is scraped off the skin.
- It is used for superficial skin cancers and avoids the need for sutures.
- The curettage site usually heals with a white scar.
- Surgical excision is the most common treatment for skin cancers.
- This is generally performed under local anaesthetic.
- The surgical wound is usually closed with skin sutures and leaves a straight scar.
- Larger wounds may be closed using a skin graft or flap.
Mohs’ Micrographic Surgery
- Mohs micrographic surgery is a highly specialised form of skin cancer surgery.
- In Mohs surgery the surgeon uses a microscope during surgery to examine the excised skin and ensure the tumour is completely removed.
- It has the highest cure rate of all surgical treatments and aims to conserve as much normal skin as possible.
- Mohs surgery is the treatment of choice for more complicated tumours, particularly on the face.
- Radiotherapy uses X-rays to destroy cancer cells and is an effective treatment for some skin cancers
- It is usually reserved for cancers that are not amenable to surgery, particularly in older age groups.
- Radiotherapy has the advantage of avoiding a surgical wound and can have an excellent cosmetic outcome in the short to medium term.
- Imiquimod is a cream that stimulates the immune system to destroy cancer cells.
- It is usually applied by the patient themselves for a 6 week period and causes a brisk red reaction.
- Imiquimod may achieve a superior cosmetic outcome to surgical excision but is reserved for specific types of skin cancers.
- It must not be used for invasive SCC's or melanoma.
Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)
- PDT is a non-surgical treatment for some skin cancers.
- PDT involves application of a light sensitive chemical to the skin followed by illumination with a specialised light source.
- PDT results in selective destruction of cancer cells and avoids damage to surrounding skin.
- Like other non-surgical treatments, PDT must not be used for invasive SCC's or melanoma.
Skin Cancer Prevention
We all know the saying prevention is the best medicine, well in the prevention of skin cancer this is absolutely true! There are a number of key tips that you can use to prevent skin cancer.
- Check your own skin every 3 months or enlist the help of a friend or family member and make it a regular occurrence.
- Report any spots which are changing to your local GP or dermatologist.
- Remember skin cancers, especially melanomas can occur on non sun-exposed sites such as the groin and feet so remember to check all areas of the body.
- Use a broad spectrum sunscreen that provides protection from both UVA and UVB rays when the UV index hits 3 or above. (In Melbourne, the UV index usually hits 3, on or about September 1 until May 1 (it is recommended you check your regions dates).
- Wear a hat, protective clothing and sunglasses when the UV index reaches 3 or above.
- Avoid sunburning and using solariums.
- Learn about the UV index. A free iPhone App is available from the SunSmart website which tells you the daily UV index all over Australia http://www.sunsmart.com.au/resources/sunsmart-app
- Remember it’s the date that burns you, not the temperature!
Early Detection Self Examination Guide:
Vitamin D and Sunlight
The majority of vitamin D is achieved through adequate sun exposure. Small amounts of vitamin D can also be found in foods such as fish, eggs and liver. The activated vitamin D then helps with calcium absorption to keep bones healthy, reduce the risk of broken bones in falls and reduce the risk of rickets (severe vitamin D deficiency causing bone deformities). Short incidental exposure is all that is needed, therefore getting vitamin D can be achieved by exposure to the sun outside the times when the UV index is 3 or more.