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What is it?

Our skin is a protective cover for our body. Like all tissues of our body the skin is made up of cells. The types of skin cancer are named after the cell of the skin from which the cancer arises. Basal cells of the skin give rise to basal cell carcinoma. Squamous cell carcinomas arise from squamous cells and melanomas from the melanin pigment containing cells (melanocytes). The common types of skin cancers are squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma and melanoma. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are referred to as non-melanoma skin cancers. There are other rare kinds of skin cancer derived from nerves, blood vessels, sweat and oil glands and other skin components but they will not be covered here.

  • Australia has one of the highest incidences of skin cancer in the world.
  • ​Two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common and least dangerous type of skin cancer. It grows very slowly on areas of the body that are exposed to the sun. Face and scalp are two of the common sites. These cancers never spread to distant parts of the body. BCCs cause damage by growing and invading into surrounding tissue.

Squamous cell Carcinoma (SCC) occurs in people over 50 years of age on sun exposed areas of the body. If not detected and treated early it can spread to other parts of the body (metastasise) and can be very dangerous.

Melanoma was the commonly diagnosed cancer among Australian adolescents and young adults between 2003 and 2007. More than one-quarter of all cancers in this age group were melanoma. Melanoma is the third most common cancer for Victorian women (following breast and bowel) and fourth most common cancer in Victorian men (following prostate, bowel and lung).

Melanoma arises from the pigment containing cells of the skin known as melanocytes. It can spread to other parts of the body and can cause death. However, if caught early it can be cured completely. Melanomas are primarily treated by surgery.

Causes

Skin cancers develop when the skin is exposed to UV Radiation. Sun exposure, tanning and using solariums are risk factors.

Risk factors for melanoma include:
  • Light hair, fair skin and light coloured eyes
  • Caucasian ancestry
  • Childhood history of intense sun exposure
  • More than 100 moles on the body
  • Parents, siblings, and children (close family) with history of melanoma
  • Abnormal looking moles on the body
  • Previous history of melanoma or non-melanoma skin cancer
  • Weakened immune system especially after organ transplant, HIV infection and if taking chemotherapy (medicine against cancer).

Last Review Date: March 15, 2016