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Types of Skin Cancer

Around two-thirds of Australian will get skin cancer in their lifetime – the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world after New Zealand due to having a predominantly pale-skinned population, high UV index, sun exposure and damaged ozone layer.

Regular burning and unprotected exposure causes progressive wrinkling (ageing) and abnormal growth of cells which may become cancerous. The long term exposure to the sun’s UV rays damages the genetic material and immunity in our skin and is both cumulative and irreversible.

The sensitivity of your skin to sun damage depends partly upon your colouring.

Fitzpatrick scale

Doctors use the Fitzpatrick scale to describe this. Other then the rare albino skin types, the redhead with pale, translucent, freckled skin and blue eyes who burns easily and finds it impossible to tan is at the highest risk. As a rule blondes or Celts are more affected by solar damage than brunettes and races with deep olive skin which have greater natural protection. Skin cancers are less common among black skinned races. Skin cancer kills more than 1,000 Australians each year. Melanoma is a deadly skin cancer and if not treated early accounts for 70% of deaths from skin cancer and common skin cancers which have grown too large, or have spread throughout the body, accounts for the remaining 30% of skin cancer deaths.


There are three main types of skin cancer – Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC), Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) and Melanoma. Rare skin cancer types include – Merkel Cell Carcinoma, Keratoacanthoma, skin appendage cancer.

Basal Cell Carcinoma BCC is the most common form of skin cancer. It occurs most frequently on sun-exposed regions of the body.

  • Although this skin cancer rarely spreads (metastasizes) to other organs of the body, it can cause destruction of surrounding tissue. Thus, early detection and treatment are essential. Most basal cell carcinomas are caused by chronic sun exposure, especially in people with fair skin, light hair and blue, green or grey eyes. In a few instances, there are other contributing factors such as burns, exposure to radiation, arsenical intoxication or chronic dermatitis.

  • Basal cell carcinoma may have several different appearances on your skin. Some warning signs that may indicate basal cell carcinoma are an open sore, a reddish patch, a growth with an elevated border and a central indentation, a bump or nodule and a scar-like area.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma SCC is a major type of cancer that arises from the outer epidermal layer of the skin and mucous membranes and occurs most commonly on areas exposed to the sun. If untreated, squamous cell carcinoma may penetrate and destroy underlying tissue. In a small percentage of cases, this tumor can spread (metastasize) to distant organs and may be fatal.

  • Chronic sun exposure is the leading cause of squamous cell carcinoma, especially in people with fair skin, light hair and blue, green or grey eyes. Other factors that may contribute to the development of this cancer include burns, scars, exposure to radiation or chemicals, chronic inflammatory conditions and immunosuppression.

  • Although more likely to develop in fair-skinned individuals, squamous cell carcinoma may occur in dark-skinned people, especially at sites of preexisting inflammatory conditions or burns. Signs that may indicate the presence of squamous cell carcinoma include scaly red patches, elevated growth with a central depression, wart-like growths, nodules and open sores. All of these types of lesions may develop a crusted surface or bleed.

Malignant Melanoma is a serious form of skin cancer of melanocytes, the cells that produce dark protective pigment called melanin.

  • Individual lesions may appear as a dark brown, black or multi-colored growth with irregular borders that can become crusted and bleed.

  • Melanoma may affect anyone at any age and can occur anywhere on the body.

  • An increased risk of developing this disease is seen in people who have fair skin, light hair and eye color, a family history of melanoma or who have had melanoma in the past. These tumors can arise in or near a preexisting mole or may appear without warning.

  • Melanoma may spread to other organs, making it essential to treat this skin cancer early.


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