Types of Skin Cancer

Procedure Information

The most common cancer in Australia is skin cancer. Australia holds the unwanted title of one of the highest rates of skin cancer prevalence in the world.

There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma. Surgical intervention is generally required combined with ongoing skin checks and monitoring.

The three main types of Cancer

1. Basal cell carcinomas are the most frequent, yet least aggressive skin cancer form, typically developing on areas regularly exposed to the sun including your face, ears, neck, scalp, shoulders, or back. Basal Cell Carcinomas appear as a shiny bump, open sore, reddish patch or pink growth. They remain in the one area and do not spread Treatment involves a one-time treatment to surgically remove the infected area.

2. A more aggressive form is known as Squamous Cell Carcinoma. These are more aggressive than basal cell carcinoma and may result from excessive sun exposure or exposure to carcinogenic chemicals. These do have the ability to spread to other areas of the body such as the lymph glands. Spreading typically occurs if the cancer is larger or has been growing, untreated, for a long period of time. Treatment involves surgery to remove the cancer and close monitoring of the lymph glands in the area.

3. Melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer, but also the least common. If not detected early, melanoma may spread to the surrounding lymph glands or other organs. To treat melanoma, the affected skin needs to be surgically removed, along with a rim of normal skin surrounding the infected area. Tests, including a chest x-ray, blood test, the sampling of lymph glands, and CT scans may also be performed to ensure that the cancer has not spread elsewhere. Best practice is to continue to monitor the patient to ensure the Cancer does not return over the coming years.


• Appears as a new spot or an existing spot that changes in colour, size or shape.
• Can appear on skin not normally exposed to the sun.

Nodular melanoma

• Grows quickly.
• Looks different from common melanomas. Raised and even in colour.
• Many are red or pink, and some are brown or black.
• They are firm to touch and dome-shaped.
• After a while, they begin to bleed and crust.

Basal cell carcinoma

• Red, pale or pearly in colour, appears as a lump or dry, scaly area.
• May ulcerate or fail to completely heal.
• Grows slowly, usually on areas that are often exposed to the sun.

Squamous cell carcinoma

• A thickened, scaly red spot that may bleed easily, crust or ulcerate.
• Grows over some months, usually on areas often exposed to the sun.
• More likely to occur in people over 50 years of age.

How do you identify a cancerous spot?

It is important that you get to know your skin and inspect it regularly. It is even more important that you have regular skin cancer checks performed by a professional at a skin cancer clinic. When you inspect regularly you will have a solid understanding of what is normal for your skin; you will be aware of where your blemishes and spots are and can monitor them for any changes in size, colour and texture. It is important to note that skin cancers are rarely painful and are most commonly seen before they are felt.

Tips for self-checking.

For a comprehensive self-check, you will need access to a mirror and it is best performed in the nude. Skin cancers can appear anywhere on your skin including areas that are not exposed to sunlight like the soles of your feet.

– Have good light and limited shadow to conduct the check in
– Check your entire body – between your fingers and toes and even your armpits and backs pf the knees.
– You can use a mirror to help with difficult to see areas like your back and scalp or get a trusted friend or family member to help you.
– Skin cancers can even appear under your nails.

If you notice a skin change it does not necessarily mean you have skin cancer. If you have any doubt about the status of a mark on your skin or are unsure if you are skin checking properly make an appointment with a health professional to have your skin assessed. They will be happy to assist you with tips and guidance for self-checking.

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Graeme Southwick OAM

Specialist Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon (MB BS FRACS FACS)
Assoc Prof Graeme Southwick is an accomplished plastic surgeon, holding multiple fellowships and memberships in prestigious medical associations, with extensive experience in teaching, research, and private practice.

Alenka Paddle

Specialist Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon (MBBS (Hons), PGDipSurgAnat, FRACS (Plast))
Dr. Alenka Paddle is a highly skilled Specialist Plastic Surgeon specializing in aesthetic and pediatric plastic surgery, with extensive training and experience in various prestigious institutions worldwide.

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