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Skin cancer: Types of skin cancer

Following are a couple of the most common types of skin cancer.


Basal cell carcinoma


  • Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer.

  • They can appear as a lump, nodule, sore that won't heal or scaly area. They are red, pearly or pale in colour.

  • A BCC grows slowly and can become large and ulcerated if not treated so they are best removed when they are small.

  • The areas most affected are the head, neck & upper torso and where there has been alot of sun exposure. They can usually be removed by a simple excision.


Squamous cell carcinoma


  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common skin cancer but are more dangerous than BCCs because they can potentially spread (matastasize) to other tissues and organs and become life-threatening.

  • They usually appear on areas of the body where there has been alot of sun exposure and are best treated early with complete excision.

  • They can look like a nodule that has caved in, an open sore, red scaly patch or wart and can bleed easily and ulcerate.

  • Smoking can cause SCC of the lip.




  • Sunspots (solar keratoses) are also a result of sun exposure although they are not a form of skin cancer. The likelihood of them developing into a skin cancer is low but they are a warning sign as skin cancers are more common in people with sunspots.

  • If the location and/or the size of the solar keratosis is bothersome or of concern the main treatments are cryotherapy (freezing with liquid nitrogen) or excision.

  • Sometimes the only way to determine if a sunspot is not a skin cancer is by removing it or taking a sample of it (biopsy) and sending it to pathology to be analysed.

  • Moles are harmless but there is a higher risk of sun damage the more moles and freckles there are.

  • If there is any change to sunspots and moles they should be seen by a doctor with special interest & experience in skin cancers.




Melanoma is the least common of the skin cancers but is the most dangerous if it is not found early.


Melanoma is a tumour of the melanocytes. Melanocytes are cells that produce melanin, which is responsible for the colour of skin, and protects it from harmful ultraviolet rays that come from the sun or sun tanning beds. When the skin is trying to protect itself it increases the amount of melanin, resulting in a suntan or moles.


People with naturally darker skin (brown or black) have the same number of melanocytes as people with white skin but they naturally make more melanin, which means more natural protection from UV rays.


Although it is still not clearly understood why melanomas occur, we do know that there are several factors that will significantly increase your risk, such as family history of melanoma, fair-skin, having multiple atypical or dysplastic naevi (abnormal moles), blistering or peeling sunburns (especially before the age of 20) and too much exposure to the sun, especially in childhood.


Queensland has the highest rate of melanoma in the world. 


Discover more about melanoma here.

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