Patient information

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We endeavour to provide you with an much information as you need to better manage your skin health. Below you will find some general information about the importance of regular skin checks and early detection, what changes to look out for, prevention of skin cancer as well as some explanation of the different types of skin lesions.

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is the growth of abnormal cells of the skin. There are three main type of skin cancer: basal cell cancers (BCCs), squamous cell cancers (SCCs) and melanoma. BCCs and SCCs are collectively known as non-melanoma skin cancer.

Prevention of skin cancer

Skin cancer is common in Australia. Treatment of skin cancers can be very successful, but may require surgery or other invasive procedures. Preventing skin cancer is always preferable. Some people are more at risk of skin cancer due to their genetics (family predisposition to developing skin cancer) or through childhood exposure to sun. However, as an adult, we can still be active in minimising our ongoing skin cancer risk. Using daily sunscreen, hats, protective clothing and sunglasses, and decreasing time spent in the sun will help to lessen your risk of skin cancer. Having regular skin checks will also help in recognising precancerous skin lesions and managing these prior to their development into skin cancers.

Early detection

With regular skin checks we have the opportunity to diagnose skin lesions early, often before they cause risk to your ongoing health. We can identify high risk lesions and advise appropriate treatment options. Early detection may decrease the need for surgery, be less invasive and have a better prognosis.

What changes to look for

  • Skin spots that change colour, change size, bleed or itch
  • Sores that don’t heal
  • A skin lesion that is an ‘ugly duckling’ (i.e. looks different to other spots on the skin)
  • A new skin spot (especially over 40 years old)

Types of skin lesions

Melanoma

Melanoma

Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer, but the least common. Melanoma can develop from an existing spot/mole or can appear in normal skin. It is important to detect melanoma early as, if left untreated, it has the highest risk of spreading to other parts of the body.

Melanoma is the most common skin cancer in the young (15–39 years old), and Australia has the highest incidence of melanoma in the world.

For the majority of people excision is curative, with no further invention needed. However your risk of developing a second melanoma is higher than the general population. It is recommended you have ongoing skin checks throughout life. It is also advised your family members (siblings, parents, children) have regular skin checks.

Solar keratoses

Solar keratoses

Skin that has had significant sun exposure over time is at risk of developing solar keratosis. These are pre-cancerous skin lesions, most commonly found on exposed areas of the body, such as face, décolletage and hands.

These may be small/individual lesions or cover an entire area (e.g. scalp, forehead). Solar keratosis can usually be managed with topical therapies including cryotherapy (liquid nitrogen; dry ice), topical creams and gels, and photodynamic therapy (PDT).

Squamous cell cancers (SCCs)

Squamous cell cancers (SCCs)

SCCs are a type of non-melanoma skin cancer and account for 30% of all skin cancers. These are usually the result of sun exposure (face, scalp, hands) and are often thickened scaly red spots. They may also present as non-healing sores.

Squamous cell cancers can grow over weeks to months, and usually require surgical excision. If they are found very early and are superficial (SCC in situ) it may be possible to treat them with topical therapies.

If SCCs are not treated promptly they may travel to distant sites in the body.

Basal cell cancers (BCCs)

Basal cell cancers (BCCs)

Basal cell skin cancers are another type of non-melanoma skin cancer, are the most common skin cancer (making up 70% of all skin cancers). These most commonly develop on sun exposed areas (head, neck, upper body).

BCCs are usually slow growing, and may not be initially obvious. They can be a pink or pearly, flat and scaly, or a small lump. They may ulcerate and bleed. Superficial BCCs may be treated with topical therapies, however nodular BCCs require surgical excision.

BCCs tend to spread locally and slowly, invading surrounding tissues. It is rare for them to spread to other sites in the body.

Seborrhoeic keratoses

Seborrhoeic keratoses

Seborrhoeic keratoses are harmless skin lesions. Their presence is often concerning to patients and are a common reason for presentation to a skin cancer clinic. Seborrhoeic keratoses usually start as pale flat lesions, and darken and can become thickened with time. They can bleed when irritated. There is no risk of developing cancer within a seborrhoeic keratosis. A patient may chose to have seborrhoeic keratoses removed for cosmetic reasons, either surgically or with a topical treatment.