Skin Cancer

Categories: Cancer, Skin Health

Topic: Skin Cancers

Queensland has the highest rates of skin cancer in the world.

Many people think that only older people develop skin cancer. In fact, melanoma is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among young people aged 15-34 years in Queensland. The good news is that the number of new cases of melanoma being diagnosed among young people has been decreasing in recent years—a great reason to remember to protect yourself in 5 ways whenever you are outside.

Skin cancer is a disease of the body's skin cells and develops when the cells are damaged by ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the sun.

The 3 main types of skin cancer are:

  • basal cell carcinoma
  • squamous cell carcinoma
  • melanoma (the most serious type of skin cancer).

UVR exposure is known to cause 96% of melanoma and 99% of non-melanoma skin cancers (BCC's and SCC's) in Australia.

Remember, that reducing your risk of skin cancer is easy. Practice the 5 ways to be sun safe—shade, clothing, hat, sunglasses and sunscreen when the UV Index is 3 or above.

Signs and Symptoms: 

Basal cell carcinoma

Image of a Basal cell carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer and makes up 75% of all cases.

BCCs normally appear as a lump or scaling area that is red, pale or pearly in colour.

They normally grow slowly, appearing on the head, neck or upper body. BCCs may become ulcerated and can be identified as a spot that won't heal.

About half of BCCs recur after 5 years.

Squamous cell carcinoma

Image of a Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) normally appears as a thickened red, scaly spot that may bleed easily or ulcerate.

SCCs usually grow slowly over months and can spread to other parts of the body if left untreated.

They appear in places most often exposed to the sun.

SCCs make up about 20% of all skin cancers. About half of SCCs recur after 5 years.


Image of a Melanoma

Melanoma is the most dangerous skin cancer and makes up about 5% of all skin cancers. If left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the body. They appear as a new spot or an existing spot, freckle, or a mole that changes colour, size or shape.

Melanomas grow over weeks to months and can appear anywhere on the body. They can be either flat or nodular. Flat melanoma may develop nodular or lumpy areas as it develops. A melanoma is generally more than 1 colour and has an irregular outline.

While family history does increase your risk of developing melanoma, only a very small number (estimated at 1-2%) of melanoma cases in Australia are related to a genetic predisposition.

Learn more about the genetic risk of melanoma

Other spots

You may get other spots that are not skin cancer, but may be warning signs.

Dysplastic naevi: appear as flat, fairly large moles anywhere on the body. They have irregular borders and uneven colour, with multiple shades of brown to pink. Dysplastic naevi indicate that a person is more prone to melanoma.

Solar keratosis: appear as red, flattish, scaly areas that may sting if scratched. They are a warning sign that a person is more prone to developing skin cancer.

Seborrhoeic keratosis: have a very distinct edge and frequently sit on top of the skin. The colour varies from pale to orange and black. Their size can be from a few millimetres up to 2 centimetres.

Moles: evenly coloured, have clear edges and may be raised. They are usually circular or oval in shape.

Freckles: harmless coloured spots that range from 1 to 10 millimetres in size. They indicate that the sun has damaged the skin.

Get to know your skin, check it regularly, and if you notice new moles/spots or any changes in the size, shape or colour of any existing moles of spots on your skin have them checked by a doctor.