People develop skin cancer as a result of periods of ongoing overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from our sun. In Australia this is a particular problem.
There are three main types of skin cancer which people may be familiar with.
- Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
- Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer in Australia and can occur at any age.
BCC and SCC are very common types of non-melanoma skin cancer and in Australia two out of three people will be diagnosed with the condition by the time they reach 70 years of age. The rates in South East Queensland are likely to be higher than this figure.
If we exclude non melanoma skin cancer then Melanoma is the third most common cancer in Australia. According to statistics nearly 14,000 people were diagnosed with melanoma in 2015.
What are the symptoms of Skin Cancer
The most important aspect of Skin Cancer diagnosis is if you are concerned then have the spot checked as soon as possible by a doctor.
Some possible symptoms of skin cancer include spots that are becoming crusty, non healing sores, small lumps that become more red, pale or waxy in colour.
New spots, spots that are changing colour or becoming darker. Existing moles becoming larger, thicker or more irregular over time.
What Causes Skin Cancer
All Australians are at risk of developing skin cancer, the majority are caused by overexposure to the sun’s radiation.
95% of melanomas are a result of UV radiation from the sun.
Australians get sunburnt on summer weekends usually participating in water sports and activities by the pool or the beach. Being outside gardening or even enjoying a barbeque are further common activities which can result in sunburn. Surprisingly people also experience sunburn in the cooler months or cloudy days as many people mistakenly believe the UV radiation is less strong at these times. Importantly exposure to the sun which does not result in a sunburn can also cause cell damage. It is the regular overexposure for many years to the sun’s radiation that causes most skin cancers.
How to Diagnose Skin Cancer
Regularly performing self checks of your own skin if an important part in early diagnosis.
Your skin cancer doctor will perform a focused skin examination every 6-12 months to ensure early diagnosis and treatment of potential skin cancers. A biopsy may be needed to confirm a diagnosis of skin cancer.
Treatment of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer can be treated in a variety of ways from topical ointment, cryotherapy, cautery and surgery. Surgery is the most common and effective form of treatment for most types of skin cancer. This surgery in the vast majority of cases with be performed with local anaesthetic. For further information on treatment a discussion with your skin cancer doctor is recommended.
The prognosis and cure rates for skin cancer are very high when early diagnosis and treatment occur.
Screening for Skin Cancer
We recommend 6 to 12 monthly skin checks but this may vary due to specific patient factors such as previous diagnosis with skin cancer.
Preventing Skin Cancer
Prevention as in all cases is the best cure.
Protect you skin from the UV radiation of the sun.
Slip- Wear sun-protective clothing
Slop- Wear broad spectrum, water resistant SPF30+ sunscreen.
Slap- Wear a hat that protects your face, head, neck and ears.
Look for shade wear possible and slide on some sun glasses that meet the Australian standards for UV radiation