Medical & Surgical Treatments

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Skin cancers are the most common form of cancer and Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world. There are many different types of skin cancer. The most common of these are basal cell carcinoma (BBC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), which are non-melanotic skin cancers.

What is a basal cell carcinoma (BCC)?

BCC’s are generally slow-growing tumours that almost never spread internally. They will grow indefinitely, destroying surrounding skin and structures, and will not resolve without treatment.

What is a squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)?

SCC tends to grow more quickly, and in some cases, spread to other areas within the body.

What is a melanoma?

Melanoma is less common, however, contributes to approximately 70% of deaths due to skin cancer. These tend to spread to other areas of the body earlier than an SCC, and usually before obvious tissue destruction is seen.

What are the latest treatments for Skin Cancers?

There is an enormous amount of research going into the treatment of cancer. As well as surgical options, there have been promising results using a range of new medications and therapies such as Anti-PD-1 drugs and other types of immunotherapy. Surgical techniques such as Mohs Surgery [hyperlink to Mohs Surgery] for the removal of skin cancers are also becoming highly advanced.

What causes skin cancers?

Skin cancer risk generally increases with age as a result of cell ageing and cell mutations. Tumours arise because of irreversible genetic changes within a single cell leading to uncontrolled growth and reduced cell death. In addition to cell ageing, there are other factors that contribute to or accelerate these cellular changes.

The primary environmental hazard is sun exposure or ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV radiation causes direct cell damage and suppresses the skin’s immune system. It contributes to all forms of skin cancer, and while considerable damage is done in childhood, ongoing exposure through life is hazardous, especially in those with outdoor occupations. Intermittent sunburn is the biggest contributing factor in the development of BCC, compared to SCC, where ongoing sun exposure poses the greatest risk. Other environmental factors include exposure to arsenic, tar, radiation, burns, and chronic inflammation or wounds. These exposures are more likely to be associated with SCC.

What role does genetics play in developing skin cancer?

Genetics puts some populations at greater risk of skin cancers than others. This includes those with fair skin which burns easily and tans poorly, albinism, a large number of moles, a strong family history of skin cancer, and certain inherited syndromes. However, those with the ability to tan are not immune to the development of skin cancer. Suppression of the immune system also increases the risk of skin cancer, and results in a greater number of skin cancers and more aggressive tumours. This is seen most often in organ transplant patients on long-term immunosuppression medication.

How can the risk of skin cancer be minimised?

The majority of skin cancer can be prevented by careful sun protection, including using sunscreens from an early age, and early detection by regular self-monitoring. In those with an increased number of risk factors or a history of skin cancer, regular self-examination is important for early detection.

Nobody knows their body more than you. Check your skin regularly for changes, especially if there is the sudden appearance of a new mark or if a freckle or a mole quickly changes colour and shape.

Who is at an increased risk of skin cancer?

People who have had a skin cancer are at increased risk of further skin cancers in the future. This risk is particularly marked in younger people and in people that have any form of immune deficiency or immune suppression.