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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    What is skin cancer?

    Related Topics
  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • 2


    Dr Jillian Tomlinson

    Hand Surgeon, Plastic Surgeon (Reconstructive & Cosmetic)

    Dr Jill Tomlinson is a fully qualified plastic, reconstructive and hand surgeon. After graduating dux in her year at University High School, Jill completed medical … View Profile

    Skin cancer is a condition where the cells of the skin have changed from being “normal” to being abnormal cells that grow and multiply abnormally. Cancer cells are invasive and without treatment they grow uncontrollably and invade structures below the skin. In many cases, such as in melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma, the skin cancer cells can travel ("metastasise“) through the body, spreading to involve lymph nodes or other body organs. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) does not tend to metastasise, so it can be considered one of the ”better“ skin cancers but it can still be deadly if not caught early and adequately treated.

    Skin cancer is very common in Australia and is most commonly due to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. You can reduce your risk of developing skin cancer by being SunSmart - avoiding sun during the middle of the day and covering your skin with clothing and sunscreen. We know that sun avoidance reduces the risk of developing future skin cancer even if you have had large amounts of sun exposure during your earlier years - so don't feel that ”there's no point starting now".

    Skin cancer is best treated in its early stages - for most skin cancers complete cure is possible if it is caught early. If you have any skin changes that might suggest skin cancer seek advice early from a qualified doctor. If there is any doubt a biopsy should be considered. Skin changes that might suggest cancer include

    • crusty, non-healing sores (especially if these become persistently sore)
    • bleeding
    • change in pigmented spots (increased size, thickness, shape)
    • new spots

    Skin cancers can look like an inoffensive little spot or pimple. If you notice any changes please do seek professional advice and don't ever feel silly asking!

  • 1


    Dr Mark McGovern

    Plastic Surgeon (Reconstructive & Cosmetic)

    Hi, my name is Mark McGovern. I am a qualified Cosmetic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon. I have been in practice on the Sunshine Coast since … View Profile

    Skin cancer is an accelerated growth of abnormal cells in the skin. The different types of skin cancer refer to which layer of the skin they are found in.

  • 1


    Prof Rodney Sinclair

    Dermatologist (Skin Specialist)

    Professor Sinclair is a Professor of Dermatology at the University of Melbourne and Director of Sinclair Dermatology. He is past-president of the Australasian Society for … View Profile

    Each year in Australia almost 1,900 people die from skin cancer; yet skin cancer is a preventable disease and the majority of skin cancers are treatable if detected early.

    While prevention is better than cure, having a good awareness of your own skin should help you to detect any suspicious lumps or spots as soon as they develop, at a stage when they can be successfully treated.

    There are three main types of skin cancer:

    • Basal cell carcinoma
    • Squamous cell carcinoma
    • Melanoma.
    These are named after the type of cell they start from.

    Basal cell carcinoma This is the most common type of skin cancer. It usually occurs on the upper body. These cancers are often red and slightly raised, with a scaly area that can bleed if knocked. They may become ulcerated.
    Squamous cell carcinomaThis cancer grows over a period of weeks or months and may spread to other parts of the body if not treated promptly. It occurs most often (but not only) on areas exposed to the sun. This can include the head, neck, hands and forearms. This cancer looks like thickened, red, scaly lump.
    Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Each year in Australia, 1,500 people die from this disease and over 11,000 new cases are diagnosed. Melanoma develops over weeks to months. If caught early, it is usually curable. However, if it spreads to other parts of the body, it can be very difficult to treat.

    Melanoma appears as a new mole or as an existing spot, freckle or mole that changes colour, size or shape. It usually has an irregular, outline and is often more than one colour.To learn more about your skin and hope toprotect against sunburn and skin cancer go to the Victorian Government Better Health Chanel

    Rod Sinclair,
    Professor of Dermatology,
    Epworth Hospital

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