Skin Cancer

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is caused by damage to the skin, usually from too much ultraviolet radiation from the sun. 1 In Australia, Melanoma skin cancer accounts for the third most common type of cancer diagnosed.5 Australia, as well as New Zealand, have the highest rates of melanoma in the world.5

By the time you reach 85 years, you have a 1 in 13 chance of developing Melanoma if you are male, and 1 in 22 if you are female.5

There are three major types of skin cancer; 1

  • Melanoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
  • Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)

Squamous cell carcinoma and Basal cell carcinoma are both non-melanoma skin cancers. Melanoma is the most serious of skin cancers. 1 Merkel cell carcinoma is another rare type of skin cancer.

Stages of skin cancer

Melanoma stages

Melanoma can be described in stages from 0 to IV, which are aimed at determining the depth (or thickness) of the melanoma and the involvement of the lymph nodes and other organs: 5

  • Stage 0 = less than 0.1mm
  • Stage I = less than 2mm
  • Stage II = greater than 2mm
  • Stage III = the melanoma has spread to the lymph nodes
  • Stage IV = spread to other areas of the body

Non-Melanoma stages

Non-melanoma usually a biopsy will be performed to determine the stage of the cancer, as well as the use of the TNM system, which stands for: 7

  • Tumour – the degree to which the tumour has affected other tissue.
  • Node – is a measure of whether lymph nodes have been affected.
  • Metastasis – the degree to which the cancer has spread to other organs of the body.

Signs and symptoms of skin cancer

Melanoma signs and symptoms:

Melanoma often has no symptoms, but the first sign you may notice is a mole that changes in appearance, such that; 5

  • It may increase in size
  • The colour may change and become blotchy
  • The mole may bleed or itch
  • It can become raised
  • The edges of the mole may become irregular

Non-Melanoma signs and symptoms:

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) accounts for approximately 30% of non-melanoma cancers, and tends to grow quickly over a few weeks or months.6

Symptoms include:6

  • A sore that doesn’t seem to heal
  • Tender or sore to touch
  • A lump that grows quickly
  • A thick, scaly red spot

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) accounts for approximately 70% of non-melanoma cancers, it often has very few or no symptoms and tends to be slow growing.6 Symptoms include;

  • Scaly patches of skin that could be pale and shiny or bright pink
  • A flesh-coloured lump

Treatment

Treatment for melanoma skin cancer will be dependent on your stage of cancer and whether it is early or advanced.

  • Early-stage Melanoma

Surgery is often the most common form of treatment for early –stage Melanoma, which involves removal of the skin cancer, as well as a margin around it. If the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, these will also require removal, known as a lymphadenectomy. 5

  • Advanced Melanoma

Additional treatments may be required for more advanced melanoma that has spread to the lymph nodes or other organs or bone, and include; 5

    • Immunotherapy uses drugs to encourage the body’s own immune system to fight the cancer cells.
    • Radiation therapy uses radiation to help destroy cancer cells. This type of treatment can be used after surgery, or when the cancer has spread to other areas of the body.
    • Targeted therapy this uses special drugs to target only the cancer cells (whilst leaving healthy cells intact). This type of treatment is often used in patients where the melanoma has spread, or who have had a recurrence (cancer that has come back).

Treatment of non-melanoma skin cancer, as with melanoma cancers, is dependent on the size of the cancer and where it is located.  Sometimes a biopsy is performed prior to surgery, otherwise surgery under local anaesthetic is the most common form of treatment for non-melanoma skin cancers6.

In certain instances, primary radiotherapy may be used for skin cancers.      

Being treated at Icon

Becoming a patient

Icon centres offer a range of skin cancer treatments to ensure a personalised treatment plan for every patient. The type of treatment you receive will depend on you and your type of cancer. If you have a question about becoming a patient at one of centres or accessing our treatment services, you can send us a message here and someone from your local centre will be in touch. Alternatively, visit our treatments page to find out more information about the range of treatment methods and technology available at Icon.

Skin cancer research at Icon

Icon Research offers Australia the largest private clinical trials program in cancer research, with over 35 clinical trials currently open for recruitment. Icon’s collaborative approach to clinical trial research not only enables continual advancement and breakthroughs in skin cancer research, but also enables the most up to date treatment options are available to all patients regardless of health insurance.

Frequently Asked Questions

How common is skin cancer?

In Australia, Melanoma skin cancer accounts for the third most common type of cancer diagnosed.5 Australia, as well as New Zealand, have the highest rates of melanoma in the world. 5

By the time you reach 85 years, you have a 1 in 13 chance of developing Melanoma if you are male, and 1 in 22 if you are female. 5

Should you protect your eyes as well as your skin from the sun?

Yes. Unprotected sun exposure can result in burns to the eyes, just like the skin, resulting in and cancer of the cornea (the outermost layer of the eye) or conjunctiva (thin layer that covers the front part of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelids) and increases the risk of cataracts.3   

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists endorse the following points in protecting your eyes from sun damage and related cancers;2

  • Cancer Council Australia recommend using eye protection when the UV (ultraviolet) index is greater than 3 by:
    • Reducing exposure to UV sunlight (and other sources) as much as possible.
    • Using wraparound sunglasses that meet the Australian & New Zealand Standards.
    • Where a broad-rimmed or bucket hat to aid further UV protection.
What about the benefits of sun exposure to our skin for vitamin D levels?

There is strong evidence to suggest that vitamin D is essential in making strong bones and maintaining skeletal health.4   Whilst some vitamin D can be obtained from the diet, our main source of vitamin D is from the sun.

Based on the position statement approved by the Australian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society, the Australasian College of Dermatologists, Cancer Council Australia, Endocrine Society of Australia and Osteoporosis Australia, the following recommendations have been made for the general healthy population: 4

  • When the UV index* is below 3:
    • It is not recommended to use sun protection
    • It is recommended to spend some time outside in the middle of the day on most days to aid vitamin D production.
  • When the UV index* is 3 or above:
    • It is recommended to use sun protection in the form of; wide brimmed hats, sunglasses, sunscreen and shade if you are going to be outside for more than a few minutes.
    • In some places of Australia during the cooler months, the UV index may still exceed 3 during the middle of the day, therefore it is important to check the UV index specific to your location and use a combination of sun protection measures.

*UV Index can be found in the weather section of the Australian Daily newspaper, or on the Bureau of Metrology website. The Cancer Council also have a free Sun Smart app for all smartphone users.

References

  1. Skin Cancer. (2019). Cancer Council. Retrieved on 15th February 2019 from https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03445533
  2. Fact sheet – eye protection. (n.d). Cancer Council Australia. Retrieved on 15th February 2019 from https://wiki.cancer.org.au/policy/Position_statement_-_Eye_protection#_ga=2.137780600.951883041.1550113604-621921889.1543095613
  3. Melanoma Factsheet. (n.d). Cancer Council. Retrieved on 15th February 2019 from https://www.cancer.org.au/content/pdf/Factsheets/MS%20214%20CCA%20MELANOMA%20POSTER%20V4%20.pdf
  4. Position statement – Sun exposure and vitamin D – risks and benefits. Cancer Council Australia. (2016). Retrieved on 15th February 2019 from https://wiki.cancer.org.au/policy/Position_statement_-_Risks_and_benefits_of_sun_exposure#_ga=2.57635938.951883041.1550113604-621921889.1543095613
  5. (2019). Cancer Council. Retrieved on 15th February 2019 from https://www.cancer.org.au/about-cancer/types-of-cancer/skin-cancer/melanoma.html
  6. Non-melanoma. (2019). Cancer Council. Retrieved on 15th February 2019 from https://www.cancer.org.au/about-cancer/types-of-cancer/skin-cancer/non-melanoma.html
  7. TNM System (2016). Cancer Council. Retrieved on 15th February 2019 from https://www.cancer.org.au/about-cancer/types-of-cancer/tnm-system.html

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