Types of Skin Cancer and where to find them

Types of Skin Cancer and where they show up on Body

Skin cancers owe their names to the cell type that becomes malignant when that type of cancer occurs in the body or skin.

The three most common types of skin cancer are:

  1. Melanoma (life threatening): This type of skin cancer begins in melanocytes, which are responsible for producing the dark brown to black pigment that gives color to the skin known as melanin. Melanoma can occur anywhere on the skin surface. In men, melanoma often occurs on the head, neck, between the shoulders and the hips while in women, melanoma often occurs on the lower legs, or between the shoulders and the hips. (1) Melanoma is rare in dark-skinned people. When it does, it usually occurs under the fingernails and toenails, on the palms, or on the soles of the feet.
  2. Basal cell skin cancer (BCC): This type of skin cancer occurs in body areas that are more commonly exposed to the sun such as the face. Basal skin cancer commonly affects fair-skinned people. Because of the intense and often excessive sun exposure common to our cultures, many people in Australia have Basal cell skin cancers – on their face, arms, legs, ears or hands – by the time they reach their later years. But again, skin cancer can occur in anyone at any age.
  3. Squamous cell skin cancer (SCC): This type of skin cancer commonly occurs in concealed body areas such as the legs and feet. However, in people with fair skin, this can occur on other skin parts such as the head, ears, face and neck.

Click here to see photos of different types of skin cancers and the RACGP article link on treatment options.



What Causes Skin Cancer?

Research suggests that over 95% of skin cancers are caused by sun exposure.

What’s wrong with a bit of sun without protection? Getting too much sun – or sunburned – can kill you in relation to your risks of getting Melanoma.

skin cancer and sun damage

If you’re young and like to sunbathe, you may think that it’s not a risk OR that it might show up very late in life; but you’d be wrong to under estimate the risks of getting Melanoma whilst you are still quite young.

“Melanoma is the most common cancer in Australians aged 15-44 years.”  Cancer Council of Australia.

In an article in Australian Family Physician, it is estimated that each GP will see at least 20 cases of skin cancer a year. Across the country, over 12,000 people will be diagnosed with skin cancer each year (that’s about 33 each day).  From 1500 to 2000 Australians will die from skin cancer every year.  Per the article (and the key aim in the SLIP, SLOP, SLAP skin cancer prevention campaign), “Sunburn causes 95% of melanomas, the most deadly form of skin cancer.”

The studies highlighted in the article, the number of people who get sun burnt on a typical summer weekend are:

  • 14% of adults
  • 24% of teenagers
  • 8% of children

That’s a lot of people who become at higher risk of eventually developing Melanoma skin cancer. And it doesn’t always wait to show up in later life (like some cancers). A Melanoma type of skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis for people between the ages of 15 and 44.

rates of melanoma in australia

Men are also at a higher risk than women. This may be linked to the fact that males, in the past, spent more time working outdoors than women, although these days sun exposure habits are much more likely to be equal – hence everyone is at higher risk.

According to the Cancer Council of Australia:

“Two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70, with more than 434,000 people treated for one or more non-melanoma skin cancers in Australia each year. Non-melanoma skin cancer is more common in men, with almost double the incidence compared to women.” Source: http://www.cancer.org.au/about-cancer/types-of-cancer/skin-cancer.html


Risk Factors for Types of Skin Cancer

According to studies, the following are the most common risk factors for any type of skin cancer:

  1. Prolonged exposure to the sun, tanning beds and other artificial sources of UV radiation and SUNBURN: Too much UV radiation from the sun or tanning beds can damage the skin’s genetic material or DNA. Over time, it can cause cells to rapidly grow out of control, which can lead to development of skin tumors or cancer. (2) Moreover, having severe, blistering sunburns can increase one’s risk for melanoma.

 sun burn sun exposure, tanning after breast surgery

  1. Personal history: If you have melanoma, then you are also at risk for developing another type of skin cancer such as basal cell skin cancer and squamous cell skin cancer.  If you have other health conditions, your immunity may be compromised and you may also be at increased risk.  Stay healthy and avoid the sun. If you’ve already had a lot of sun exposure or have ever suffered a severe sun burn, please get checked on a frequent basis by someone who is a professional in identifying and treating Skin Cancers (or if you already have a diagnosis, removal of skin cancers can be done by a Plastic Surgeon such as or Dr Geoff Barnett in Melbourne or if you’re in New South Wales, ask us about your Sydney Plastic Surgeon options.
  1. Genetics: Skin cancer can be passed down by your parents. If you inherit your parents’ defective genes which trigger skin cancer, then you are most likely to have it at some point in your life.

 genetics and sun exposure

  1. Fair-skinned people: If you have light skin (fair skin or translucent skin), then you are likely at a higher risk for developing skin cancer, especially if living in Australia. This risk becomes elevated because fair-skinned people tend to have lesser amounts of melanin in the skin, which has a protective role by blocking UV radiation from damaging your DNA. On the contrary, dark-skinned people have higher melanin deposits in their skin that’s why they are at lower risk for skin cancer.
  1. Some Medications: Certain medicines including hormone medications, steroids and antibiotics – even certain supplements – can cause your skin to become hyper-sensitive to the sun and at higher risk of sun burn or of developing skin cancer. These medications include tetracyclines, fluoroquinolones, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, diuretics and retinoids. (3)
  1. Certain medical conditions: There are certain medical conditions which may render you with an increased susceptibility to skin cancer.  These include a weakened immune system, viral infections, albinism (lack of melanin production in the skin), and xeroderma pigmentosum (a defective DNA repair mechanism).

 


Checking your Skin for Different Types of Skin Cancer

Regularly checking your skin for any irregularities can help detect any warning signs of skin cancers.

After bathing, it is best to assess your body for the presence of a new mole, red or darker skin patch that may be raised, changes in the size, shape, color, or feel of your mole, a sore that doesn’t heal, or anything that seems suspicious in your skin.

Have someone regularly check the back of your body and places you cannot see (or take photos) but if you have any risk factors for skin cancer, it is best to have a Medical Professional check you regularly each year – ideally someone who focuses on identifying and treating skin cancers.

men are at high risk for melanoma more than women and sun exposure increases risks


 Understanding Your Skin

The skin is considered as the body’s “shield” from heat, injury as well as infection. It also protects the body from the harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiations from the sun. In addition to this, the skin plays a pivotal role in hydration and regulation of body heat by storing water and fat.

The skin is divided into two primary layers known as:

  • Epidermis: The skin’s top layer and is composed of flat cells known as squamous cells. Below these cells are round cells known as basal cells. Scattered among the basal cells are melanocytes, which are located in the deepest part of the epidermis.
  • Dermis: This is the layer under the dermis which contains blood and lymph vessels, and glands.

There are sub-layers within the dermis and epidermis.

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Cells are the building blocks of our tissues.  Cancer involves altered or uncontrolled division of abnormal cells.

Abnormal cell growth can take many different forms and impact many different cells in the body.

Normally, cells grow and divide to form new cells (which make up tissues).  This is often a normal renewal process or occurs in response to different body stimuli such as injury. But sometimes this process is altered. The cells divide rapidly, resulting in the formation of extra cells, which might end up forming a mass or tissue that is called “a growth” or tumor.


 NEXT STEPS

See a Skin Cancer Doctor if you notice any skin changes including mole changes, texture changes, growths or thickening of the skin.

If any abnormal growths, texture changes or lesions occur in the cells of the skin, it’s potentially skin cancer, and should be checked immediately by a qualified Medical Professional who focuses on skin cancer identification and treatments.

Not all tumors or growths are cancerous but only a professional can assess the growth properly so medical attention is mandatory. Better safe than sorry.

Skin growths can be non-cancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant).

Normally, benign growths are harmless and can be removed from the affected body area without skin-cancer-melanoma-australia-surgeongrowing back. On the contrary, malignant growths can be life-threatening and continues to grow back once removed.

Skin cancer is, unfortunately, very common in Australia. Two of three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70 years.  Melanoma is the 3rd most prevalent cancer diagnosis of men and the 4th most prevalent cancer diagnosed in women (excluding other types of skin cancers). Source: Cancer Council of Australia.

Consult immediately with your GP once you detect any skin abnormalities for further assessment and medical intervention.

And if you need your Skin Cancer excised (surgically removed with a wide margin), consult one of the top Plastic Surgeons in Melbourne or Sydney (visit www.plasticsurgeons.com.au).

Phone us on (03) 8849 1400 if you want us to suggest a Surgeon for Skin Cancer Removal or to rejuvenate your sun damaged skin using one of our signature sun-damaged skin treatments including DOT therapy, FRAXEL and Laser Genesis or Dermapen.


References:

  1. David Schottenfeld; Joseph F. Fraumeni Jr. (24 August 2006). Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention. Oxford University Press. pp. 1196–. ISBN 978-0-19-974797-9.
  2. Keshav K Singh (4 April 2006). Oxidative Stress, Disease and Cancer. World Scientific. pp. 940–. ISBN 978-1-78326-011-9.
  3. Betty L. Gahart; Adrienne R. Nazareno (8 June 2015). 2016 Intravenous Medications: A Handbook for Nurses and Health Professionals. Elsevier Health Sciences. pp. 1028–. ISBN 978-0-323-29776-9.

Scientific Journal Articles and References for Sun Exposure and Skin Damage


Cancer Causes & Control
Volume 12, Issue 1pp 69–82 

Childhood sun exposure as a risk factor for melanoma: a systematic review of epidemiologic studies

Authors: David C. Whiteman, Catherine A. Whiteman, Adèle C. Green

Accessed online on January 24, 2019.

BMJ – British Medical Journal  Volume 91, Issue 2

Sun exposure and risk of melanoma

Authors: S A Oliveria1M Saraiya2A C Geller3M K Heneghan1C Jorgensen2Accessed online on January 24, 2019.


Epidemiology  19 August 2002   https://doi.org/10.1002/ijc.10579
Sun exposure predicts risk of ocular melanoma in Australia
Accessed online on January 24, 2019.
Last updated: September 25, 2020
Author profile image
Dr Richard Maxwell MBBS FRACS(Plas)
Mr. Richard Maxwell graduated in medicine from Monash University in Melbourne in 1981. He trained in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the Alfred Hospital, the Royal Melbourne Hospital and the Victorian Plastic Surgery Unit in Melbourne. He completed his training in 1989, gaining the Fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

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