Skin Cancer Information

Including skin cancer facts, types of skin cancer and good list of skin cancer resources online

Skin Cancer facts

How to check for Skin Cancer infographic

How to check for Skin Cancer infographic.
Click for enlargement and more information.
Original graphic: © AAD

  • Two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer before they are 70.[1]
  • Skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer. It accounts for 80% of all new cancers diagnosed each year in Australia.[1,2]
  • 95- 99% of skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun.[2]
  • What you can see of a skin cancer on the surface of the skin may only account for 10-20% of its total size.[3]
  • Around 434,000 Australians are treated for non-melanoma skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma) each year.[1]
  • In 2011 in Australia there were 543 deaths from non-melanoma skin cancer.[6]
  • More than 10,000 Australians are treated for melanoma skin cancer each year.[5]
  • 1,200 Australians die from melanoma each year.[5]

What causes skin cancer?

Skin cancer occurs due to damage of cellular DNA in the skin. This can be caused by solariums or the sun.

Solariums can actually emit UV radiation up to five times as strong as the summer midday sun and have a proven link to causing skin cancer.

Types of skin cancer

Basal Cell Carcinoma or BCC

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma or BCC
Image: Dr James Heilman

BCCs are the most common form of skin cancer.

BCCs are the most common form of skin cancer. They can become noticeable as a flat pink patch or a pink lump with a sore that won't heal.

BCCs account for about 75% of all skin cancers.[1]

They are a malignant tumour formed in the basal cell layer of the skin. They usually appear as a small, rounded lump with a pearly edge and a few visible blood vessels.

BCCs occur mainly in exposed areas such as the head and neck, upper trunk and the limbs.

There are some more aggressive subtypes of BCC that are difficult to see and can do more damage to tissues.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma or SCC

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous Cell Carcinoma or SCC may arise from pre-malignant lesions such as solar keratoses. Skin surface of SCC is usually scaly and often ulcerates as shown in image above.
Image: Public domain

SCCs usually appear as a flat, scaly area that gradually thickens. Bleeding and ulceration may occur, and the area could feel tender. They can also grow into lumps very rapidly.

SCCs predominantly occur on the head and neck, hands and forearms, trunk and lower limbs. These cancers may spread to other parts of the body if not treated. SCCs account for about 20% of all skin cancers.[1]

Intraepithelial carcinoma, Bowen’s disease, and superficial SCC are different terms for the same type of SCC skin cancer.
These types of squamous cell carcinomas are confined to the upper layers of skin and usually appear pink and scaly. They are mainly caused by UV radiation, but can also be a result of ionising radiation (radiotherapy) and arsenic ingestion.


Malignant Melanoma

Malignant Melanoma
Image: Public domain

Melanoma is the most common cause of cancer in Australians aged 15-44 years.[7]

It rarely occurs in children[5], but it can appear at any age and on any area of the body, not only those exposed to the sun.[1]

The first sign of a melanoma is usually the appearance of a new spot on normal skin or a change in a freckle or mole.[1] There may be a change in size, shape, or colour of a spot, and the surface texture may change.[1] Early detection is vital[1] as melanoma is often identifiable at an early stage where simple treatment can result in complete cure.[4,5]

Melanomas account for about 5% of all skin cancers[1], but are responsible for 75% of skin cancer deaths.[4]

Australia has the highest incidence of melanoma in the world, with rates having doubled between 1986-2006.[4]

1 in 14 males and 1 in 23 females in Australia will develop a melanoma by age 85.[4]

Malignant Melanoma on left foot

Malignant Melanoma on left foot
Image: Will Blake Public domain

Compared to women, men are more than 2.5 times as likely to die from melanoma.[4]

Melanoma is the most common cancer in young Australians aged 15-39 years old.[4,5]

If you have visited a solarium before the age of 35, your risk of melanoma is increased by 75%.[3]

Having 6 or more dysplastic naevi (abnormal moles) increases your risk of melanoma substantially.[3]

Melanoma is projected to become the third most common cancer in Australians by the year 2020.[5]

Regular skin checks allow the early detection and thus the early treatment of melanomas.

Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Merkel Cell carcinoma is an aggressive form of skin cancer. Luckily, it is relatively rare. It arises from pressure receptors in the skin and can spread to other parts of the body. It usually occurs in people greater than 50 years old.

Other types of skin lesions

Solar keratoses (also known as actinic keratoses or sun spots)

Solar keratoses are pre-cancerous lesions, which are usually a result of cumulative sun exposure. These can appear as multiple scaly, warty, skin coloured or pink lesions that are most often found on the face, hands, and forearms of fair-skinned people who have regularly been outdoors without adequate sun protection.

The presence of solar keratoses means that the person is more likely to grow skin cancers and has up to a 15% risk of each keratosis developing into a SCC.

Treatment of solar keratoses with PDT is offered by Skin HQ and should be considered at the pre-cancer stage can decrease the skin cancer risk and can be discussed with a doctor at your skin check.

Dysplastic Naevi

Dysplastic Naevi are unusual moles that are most often hereditary and indicate that the person is at a higher risk of developing a melanoma. Having regular skin checks with digital dermoscopic monitoring is one way of detecting early melanomas.


  1. Cancer Council Queensland (CCQ). Skin Cancer Fact Sheet (3 page PDF) - retrieved Sep 2019
  2. More CCQ cancer fact sheets
  3. Cancer Council Australia. Skin Cancer - retrieved February 2014
  4. National Health and Medical Research Council. Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Management of Melanoma in Australia and New Zealand. (2008)
  5. Melanoma Institute Australia. Melanoma Facts and Statistics - retrieved February 2014
  6. Melanoma Patients Australia. What is Melanoma? - retrieved September 2019
  7. Cancer Council Australia. Non-Melanoma Cancer - retrieved March 2014
  8. Cancer Council Australia. Skin Cancer - retrieved March 2014

Skin Cancer resources

Youtube videos

Media reporting the danger of not having a skin check
Video: Cancer Council Australia



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