& skin checks
Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world with 2 out of 3 people being diagnosed by the age of 70 and over 750,000 people treated each year. Early detection is vitally important in preventing deaths from both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers.
You should get a professional skin check by a doctor once a year in addition to regular self checks. However if you notice any suspicious lesions then you should present to your GP earlier to have this examined.
- Dysplastic naevus
- Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
- Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
- Actinic keratosis (sun spots)
- Seborrhoeic keratosis
- Skin checks
- Surgical excision
- Curretage and cautery
- Photodynamic therapy (PDT)
- Topical skin cancer treatments
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Skin cancer is a type of cancer that starts within the layers of the skin (epidermis). There are 3 main types of skin cancer in Australia: melanoma, basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer in Australia accounting for around 75% of all skin cancers and usually occurs in sun exposed areas of the body (face, neck, upper trunk). Although this type of skin cancer rarely spreads to other areas (metastasises) it can grow and cause significant local destruction or spread along nerves. Patients most at risk are those with fair skin, light hair, blue/green eyes or with chronic sun exposure. They are largely associated with sunlight (UV) radiation, but can also be caused by certain occupations, exposure to ionizing radiation or arsenic. Some genetic syndromes can predispose individuals to multiple BCC’s as well as cancers in other locations. They can appear as a lump or a scaly area of skin and can be pale or red in colour. They may have blood vessels visible on the surface. Once a patient has had one BCC they are very likely to develop further lesions.
Squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) is another common form of skin cancer in Australia accounting for about 20% of skin cancers in Australia. They grow much faster (weeks to months) and are more likely to spread to other areas of the body. It is important to identify these early so that they can be treated appropriately. They are associated with sun exposure, but can also be caused by burns, immunosuppression and chronic inflammation. They can appear scaly or red in appearance and can bleed or ulcerate.
Melanoma is cancer of the pigment forming cells (melanocytes) within the skin. They occur less commonly than non-melanoma skin cancers (about 5% of skin cancers), but have the highest rate of mortality. Survival from melanoma is directly associated with depth of invasion, where deeper lesions are more likely to have invaded the blood supply & lymphatics of the skin and can then metastasise to other organs. Depending on the subtype of melanoma they can grow very rapidly which is why it is vitally important to keep an eye on your own skin and present to a GP if you notice any suspicious lesions so that they can be examined. See section on ‘how do I check myself for melanoma?’. Melanomas can occur anywhere on the body, not just in sun exposed areas. They can occur within an existing mole where you may notice a change (in colour, shape, size) or they can arise as a new lesion (de novo) where you may notice a new mole that was not there previously.
It is important to get to know your own skin. Performing regular self-examinations is key to identifying any new lesions or changes to existing lesions. In addition to this having a professional skin check by a doctor once per year is recommended due to the high incidence of skin cancer in Australia.
In Australia GP’s remain the frontline for skin cancer detection and treatment of non-complex lesions. They are well suited to perform regular skin examinations and examine any suspicious lesions as they are familiar with your individual skin cancer risk, your medical & family history and can be readily accessed as soon as any suspicious lesion is identified.
Dermatologists are referred to for a second opinion, for complex lesions or to mange those individuals at high risk of melanoma. To see them will require a referral from a GP every 12 months. Waiting lists in Australia can be long, so if you notice a suspicious lesion it is important to present to a GP to have it assessed so that it can be triaged and treated appropriately. If it a skin condition requires urgent attention by a dermatologist then your GP can contact them directly to arrange a timely appointment.