Skin Cancer &
The earlier that skin cancer is found, the more successful treatment is likely to be.
Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, including melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers. Every year in Australia skin cancers account for around 80% of all newly diagnosed cancers.
Early detection saves lives. Learning what to look for on your own skin gives you the power to detect cancer early when it’s the easiest to cure, before it can become dangerous, disfiguring or deadly.
What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer occurs when skin cells are damaged, for example, by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. There a three main types of skin cancer:
- Basal cell carcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma
- Melanoma – the most dangerous form of skin cancer
What Is Melanoma?
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer; it develops in skin cells called melanocytes and usually occurs on parts of the body that have been overexposed to the sun.
Sometimes melanomas can also start inside the eye or in a part of the skin or body that has never or rarely been exposed to the sun, for example:
- Inside of the mouth
- The soles of the feet
- Palms of the hands
- Genitals and
- Under the nails.
Melanoma is considered the most serious form of skin cancer because it is more likely to spread to other parts of the body, especially if not found early. Unfortunately, Australia and New Zealand have the highest rates of melanoma in the world. Every year, about 16,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma in Australia. It is the second most common cancer in men and the third most common cancer in women (excluding non-melanoma skin cancers)
What does skin cancer look like?
Each Melanoma can look very differently. If you have lots of moles, a melanoma usually stands out and looks different from other moles. The first sign is often a new spot or a change in an existing mole.
- In size – the spot may appear, or begin to grow larger
- Colour – the spot may become blotchy with different depths and shades of colour (often brown or black, but about 20% of melanomas are called “amelanotic” and appear as red, white, light grey, pink or the colour of your skin)
- Shape or border – the spot may increase in height, become scaly, have an irregular shape (scalloped or notched) or not be symmetrical (the halves may look different)
- Itching or bleeding – the spot may itch or bleed very easily
- Elevation – the spot may start as a raised nodule or develop a raised area, which is often reddish or reddish brown.
New moles mostly appear during childhood and through to the 30s and 40s, as well as during pregnancy. However, adults of any age can have new or changing spots. It is important to get to know your skin and check it regularly. It is also very important to have your skin checked by a qualified skin cancer doctor.
What causes skin cancer?
The main cause of all types of skin cancer is overexposure to Ultraviolet (UV) radiation which usually comes from the sun.
Anyone can develop melanoma, but the risk is higher in people who have:
- Unprotected exposure to UV radiation, particularly a pattern of short, intense periods of sun exposure and sunburn, such as on weekends and holidays.
- Lots of moles (naevi) – more than 10 moles above the elbow on the arms and more than 50 on the body, especially if the moles have an irregular shape and uneven colour (dysplastic naevi)
- Pale, fair or freckled skin, especially if it burns easily and doesn’t tan
- Light-coloured eyes (blue or green), and fair or red hair
- A previous melanoma or other type of skin cancer
- A strong family history of melanoma.
- A weakened immune system for example from using immunosuppressive medicines for a long time (e.g., for rheumatoid arthritis or another autoimmune disease or after an organ transplant.
Protection for healthy skin
To keep our skin health, disease and toxin free you can do a number of things:
- Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, exercise daily, drink plenty of water and getting deep and restful sleep.
- Use skincare products that are free of artificial chemicals that damage our skin (link to
- We recommend a combination of these sun protection measures:
- Slip on some sun-protective clothing – that covers as much skin as possible.
- Slop on broad spectrum, water resistant SPF30 sunscreen. Put it on 20 minutes before you go outdoors and every two hours afterwards. Sunscreen should never be used to extend the time you spend in the sun.
- Slap on a hat – that protects your face, head, neck and ears.
- Seek shade.
- Slide on some sunglasses – make sure they meet Australian standards.