Skin cancer occurs when skin cells are damaged, for example, by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
Sunburn and tanning expose the skin to UV radiation, and can eventually cause changes to the skin that increase the risk of developing skin cancer.
Australia has the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, with 95 to 99 per cent of cases being caused by sun exposure. Skin cancer accounts for 80 per cent of all new cancer diagnoses each year.
Types of Skin Cancer
There are three main types of skin cancer (click on each type for more information):
*Both basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma are known as non- melanoma skin cancer.
Causes of Skin Cancer
Known risk factors include having skin sensitive to ultraviolet (UV) radiation or burns easily, a high number of moles (more than 10 on arms or 2000 on the body) or many unusual moles, and a family history of skin cancer or - if you have spent a large amount of time outdoors - an absence of skin protection.
Ways to Reduce Risk
Reduce sun exposure by covering up with protective clothing, high-level sun cream and a hat. Avoid the hottest part of the day and don’t sunbathe. Avoid using solariums or sunlamps. Limit alcohol intake, quit smoking, maintain a healthy weight, eat a diet rich in fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, get regular exercise and limit radiation exposure.
See your GP if you notice a change in your body or in your general state of health.
How Common is Skin Cancer?
Every year, in Australia:
- Skin cancers account for around 80 per cent of all newly diagnosed cancers
- Between 95 and 99 per cent of skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun
- GPs have over 1 million patient consultations per year for skin cancer
- The incidence of skin cancer is one of the highest in the world, two to three times the rates in Canada, the United States and United Kingdom.
For more information see the Cancer Council website
How is Skin Cancer Diagnosed?
There is no specific test for skin cancer. The most effective way to identify skin cancer is by regular skin checks which are best performed by a general practitioner. Different skin types are at a greater risk of developing skin cancer as well as people who are regularly exposed to the sun.
If skin changes are noticed, review by a general practitioner is recommended. If these areas look suspicious, a small piece of the area may be removed (called a biopsy) and this is sent to be reviewed by a pathologist. Follow up from this will depend on what the result indicates.
Being aware of changes in the skin can assist in the early detection of skin cancers. A general practitioner can advise on how frequently skin checks should be performed based on individual risk factors.
The Cancer Council website shows how to perform a skin self-assessment.
Any suspicious lesion should be reviewed by a general practitioner.
By protecting the skin from UV rays, the risk of developing skin cancer is significantly reduced.
Simple measures such as wearing sun protective clothing, using sunscreen, wearing a hat, seeking shade from the sun and wearing sunglasses can greatly reduce sun exposure damage to the skin.
Being aware of when the UV index is at its highest during the day and avoiding skin exposure during those times can also reduce the risk of harmful skin damage. To find out more about UV alerts look here on the Bureau of Meteorology website.
For more information about prevention strategies visit the Cancer Council website.
The management of skin cancers is almost always removal. In some advanced skin cancers, some of the surrounding tissue may also be removed to ensure all the cancer cells are included.
Information to come.
Information to come.