Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Australia.  Two thirds of the population will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70.  Australia has the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world, and South-East Queensland has the highest incidence of skin cancer in Australia.  Each year, more than 430,000 Australians are diagnosed with skin cancer, and 1600 die from it.

The good news is, Australia also has the highest cure rates for skin cancer in the world, but in order to cure a skin cancer, your doctor first has to find it, and for that to happen, you have to actually go and see your doctor for a skin check.

There are two main types of skin cancer: Melanoma, and everything else (non-melanoma skin cancer).  Non-melanoma skin cancer is made up predominately of Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) and Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC).

Basal Cell Carcinoma

BCC is the commonest form of skin cancer, accounting for about 75% of all skin cancer.  It is also the least malignant, and slowest growing of all the skin cancers.  BCCs can range in appearance from a small reddish rash to a pearly pink lump.  They can also be pigmented (dark), resemble a sore that doesn’t heal, or even look like a scar.  They generally don’t metastasise (break off and form distant tumours or secondaries) and are easily treated, especially if found early.

Treatment can range from cryotherapy (freezing) for superficial types, through to excision (surgery) for deeper tumours.  Some superficial sub-types may respond to a topical cream.  BCC’s are common on the face, and sometimes plastic surgical techniques are required for a proper functional and cosmetic repair.  All the doctors at Gold Coast Skin Clinic are very experienced in this form of surgery.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

SCC is less common than BCC, making up about 20% of skin cancer.  They are more aggressive and faster growing than BCC, and can grow to the size of a pea in less than two weeks, but mostly form over a month or two.  They can look like a small reddish rash, or a hard lump, and can sometimes bleed.  They can also be painful, especially when squeezed.  Unlike BCC, SCC can form metastases, particularly those on the face, ears and scalp.

Although superficial sub-types of SCC can be treated by cryotherapy or cautery, the majority need excision, generally with a slightly wider margin than that needed for BCC.

Melanoma

Although the most dangerous of the skin cancers, melanoma is also the rarest, comprising less than 5% of skin cancers.  They can appear as a change in an existing mole, but most arise out of normal looking skin, and appear over weeks to months.  Melanomas metastasise after they reach a certain depth, but fortunately, they generally spread horizontally before they grow vertically, and so, if seen early enough by your doctor, can be successfully treated in more than 90% of cases.  They are mostly flat, but can be raised (nodular).

The letter “S” is a good way to spot one: 

Size: most benign moles stay the same size, generally less than 6mm.  Melanomas are generally greater than 6mm, and grow in size.
Shape: most benign moles are round or oval in shape, with a smooth, even edge.  Melanomas mostly have an irregular outline, with little “fingers” projecting out from them.
Shading: most benign moles are one colour, from pale tan through to very dark/black.  Melanomas have multiple colours, not just black, but can have patches of brown, grey, and even pink.
Symmetry:  most benign moles are symmetrical in shape and colour.  Melanomas are asymmetrical, with irregular shapes and colours.
Specialist: it’s not your job to figure all this out – if you’re at all concerned about a spot, go and see your doctor.  The doctors at Gold Coat Skin Clinic see melanomas all the time, and are very experienced at diagnosing one.

Treating melanoma always involves surgery.  Mostly, this can be done under local anaesthetic in the operating theatres at Gold Coast Skin Clinic.  Occasionally, further treatment may be needed, which will involve referral to our specialist surgeon, and an overnight stay in hospital