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Skin Cancer


What is it?

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Skin cancer is a disease of the body's skin cells which occurs when skin cells are damaged. This damage is usually caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun where the cells change or mutate to form skin cancer.

There are three main types of skin cancer:

  • melanoma – the most dangerous form of skin cancer
  • basal cell carcinoma*
  • squamous cell carcinoma*

*Both basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are known as non-melanoma skin cancer.


    Skin Cancer Check
  • Two in three Australians will be diagnosed with Skin Cancer by the time they are 70 making Australia have one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, four times that of Canada, US and the UK.
  • Skin cancer accounts for around 80% of all newly diagnosed cancers each year in Australia
  • Approximately one in 11 Queensland men and one in 19 Queensland women will be diagnosed with melanoma before the age of 85
  • Melanoma is the most common form of cancer in people aged 15-44 years
  • Skin cancer already costs the health system around $300 million annually over a decade ago, the highest cost of all cancers
  • Over 440,000 Australians are treated for skin cancer each year with 10,000 being treated for melanoma
  • Nearly 2000 people die from Skin Cancers every year
  • Using a solarium before the age of 35 boosts the risk of melanoma by 87%

Skin Cancer CheckWhat are the symptoms?

The best way to identify a skin cancer is to become familiar with the look and feel of your skin so you can pick up any changes that might suggest a skin cancer. The sooner a skin cancer is identified the sooner it can be treated. It is recommended that you regularly perform a skin self-examination or get a skin check from your doctor. The most common warning sign of skin cancer is a change in the appearance of the skin, such as a new growth or a sore that will not heal. Look for:

  • Any new growth that is suspicious
  • Small lumps (spot or mole) that are firm
  • Small lumps (spot or mole) that are red or pale in colour
  • Any spots, freckles or moles that change in colour, thickness or shape over a short period of time
  • A spot that doesn't heal, bleeds or becomes crusty

Keep in mind that these growths are usually painless. If you notice any changes consult your doctor. They may perform a biopsy or refer you to a specialist if they suspect skin cancer. Keep in mind these symptoms are often due to causes other than cancer.

Risk Factors

Anyone can develop skin cancer but there are certain characteristics and causes that increase the risk:

  • Getting sunburnt – this causes 95% of Melanomas the most deadly form of skin cancer
  • Tanning - a tan shows you have been exposed to enough UV radiation (sun or solarium) to damage your skin
  • Fake tan – a fake tan does not provide protection against UV radiation
  • Exposure to the sun – through work or other types of outdoor activity
  • People with fair skin tones, light coloured eyes and hair
  • People over 50
  • People who have a family history of skin cancer

Learn how to check your skin

Healthy Habits

There are many ways you can protect your skin from the causes of skin cancer:

  • Slip on sun protective clothing
  • Slop on SPF30+ sunscreen and reapply every two hours
  • Slap on a broad-brimmed hat
  • Seek shade
  • Slide on sunglasses
  • Extra care should be taken between 10am – 3pm when UV levels reach their peak

Research based at the PAH Campus

Professor Ian Frazer, the creator of the world's first cancer vaccine and well renowned dermatologist Professor Peter Soyer are leading the way with their collaborative skin cancer studies. Significant research being undertaken at the Princess Alexandra Hospital Campus includes:

  • A study which aims to test whether a virus infection on the skin contributes to the risk of developing skin cancer and also to test if the ability to mount an immune response also contributes to the risk of developing skin cancer
  • Investigating the treatment for surgically inoperable Stage II and III melanoma
  • Trying to uncover regulatory elements that play significant roles in the inherited predisposition to psoriasis
  • Studying the connection between kidney transplant patients and the increase in skin cancers
  • Identifying the elements and timing of morphological changes associated with the transformation from naevus (moles) to melanoma and to identify the life cycle characteristics of a normal naevus
  • Looking into how to improve drug therapy, predicting which patients will respond to therapy and how more patients can be made to respond to therapy


Cancer Council
Sun Smart
Mayo Clinic
HealthDirect Australia

Disclaimer: This information is intended as a guideline only. The sources used are believed to be reliable and in no way replace consultation with a Health Professional.