What is Skin Cancer and What Are The Various Types?






Skin cancer is very very common in Australia. It is largely combination of the your skin type (more lighter skinned you are the more you are likely to develop skin cancer) and the environment (Australia and New Zealand has strong sun predisposing us to developing skin cancers).

The skin cancers we most commonly see in Australia are Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC), Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) and Melanoma.  There are other types of course, but here we will focus these three.                                                   

What is a Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)?

  Mostly it is a slower growing skin cancer variety that rarely goes anywhere else- it slowly grows where it is over many years and if caught early before it grows large you can safely and effective treat it and no longer becomes a problem.

  Biopsy (taking a sample of tissue and having it looked at by pathologist) is important because it tells us what sub-type it is. There are slower growing sub-types (for example “nodular” type) that do not spread to other parts of the body but there are aggressive sub-types too (such as “infiltrative”).

  The biology of BCC is important and will indicate the best method of treatment. Where more aggressive forms are found, more aggressive treatment may be needed.

  Surgical removal of BCC is a good treatment but there are alternatives depending in the sub-type. Some cancers can be treated with cream alone or other non surgical methods. 

  If the tumour is small enough it can often be treated under local anaesthetic in an office setting. For those that are not fond of needles, facilities for “twilight sedation” can be arranged- such sedation arrangement means no general anaesthetics but no pain of the needle when the local anaesthetic is going in. For more complex cases general anaesthetic may be considered and discussed with you.

Early detection usually leads to a successful outcome so consult your skin specialist, dermatologist and specialist plastic surgeon as soon as possible if you have concerns.

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What is a Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)?

   It originates in the spinosum or melphighian part of the top layer of the skin. 

   Majority of the SCC’s arises from the previous “sun spots”- these red and scaly spots on the sun exposed part of the skin if left can progress into a SCC. It is common to have those “frozen off” at your doctor but those that persist need a closer attention.

  Much like BCCs, SCCs can be divided into a low risk form (well differentiated) and aggressive forms (poorly differentiated) with grades of aggressiveness in between. The poorer the biology of the disease the more aggressive the treatment must be, because it can often travel in lymph channels into nearby lymph glands and it can also travel to nearby nerves.

Left untreated Basal Cell Carcinoma will continue to grow and become more difficult to treat. Regular skin checks will help prevent this from happening.


 What is a Melanoma?

  Melanocytes are cells in your skin that act to protect your skin from harmful effects of the sun by providing “window shading” of sorts. Sometimes these melanocytes turn into cancer and these are called Melanoma.

  Melanoma if left untreated can be dangerous and even fatal. This is because when melanocyte turn into cancer in the top layer of skin it begins to burrow downwards into deeper tissues.

  Once it starts to invade into deeper tissues it can travel to local lymph glands and even distant organs such as brain and liver.

  It is crucial to have a regular skin check especially if you have had melanoma in the past or you have a family history of melanoma.

  If caught early it can be treated safely and effectively with surgery.


One feature from below doesn’t necessarily mean it is melanoma, but you need to watch out for signs of change.

A- Asymmetry. If you can’t divide the dark spot into 2 equal halves it’s a warning sign. For example a perfect circle is better than a map of Australia.

B- Border. A clear border, where you can easily tell “this is where the dark spot stops and this is where the normal skin begins” is a good thing. If the edges or the border looks like someone had spilt ink it is a warning sign.

C- Colour. One uniform colour of say light brown is okay. Multiple colour’s of red, blue and black is not.

D- Diameter greater than 6mm. Bigger than 6mm of greatest dimension needs a closer look.

E- Elevation (it’s raised) or Evolution– IT IS CHANGING.
If you’ve had a dark spot that is changing, see us IMMEDIATELY, we will fit you in.

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What are some treatment options for Skin Cancers?

  Treatment needs to be individually tailored to each person.  The biology of the skin cancer, the location of the tumor and the circumstance of each person must be considered.  Ask us and we will explain the steps for you.

  Once a diagnosis is made, a tailored planned will be made specifically for you.
The above are examples only.  You must consult a specialist prior to embarking upon a treatment.

  Treatment may consist of:

Non surgical options- include topical creams, light therapy, radiotherapy

Surgery- Excision and reconstruction but also curette and electrocautery.

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Reconstruction after Surgical Cancer Removal

Each skin cancer, its treatment and reconstruction will be tailored to you.  Generally, there are four surgical options.

  Direct closure (also known as Primary Closure)- The direction of the resulting scar is crucial in achieving the optimal cosmesis. The resulting defect after the skin cancer has been removed are brought together in a single line.

  Local flap closure– by “borrowing” local tissue and rearranging the tissue we are able to reconstruct the defect from the skin cancer surgery. There are many different types of local flaps and needs to be carefully chosen for the given location on the body.

  Skin graft– In essence it is a skin transplant where we “harvest” skin from one site and put it on another. It may be a thin skin in case of “split skin graft” or the full depth of skin called “full thickness” skin graft. These different types of skin grafts need to be carefully selected for that location on that particular patient.

  Distant flap closure – in some cases, usually large cancers there may not be enough local tissue to be able to reconstruct the defect. In this case we borrow from a distant site for reconstruction. This is common place in case of large head and neck cancers as well as breast reconstructions.

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What can I do about scars from the surgery?

Following surgery we embark upon a rigorous scar management strategy to optimise the resulting scars. Feel free to read our scar management advice under Patient Resources Section.

We continue to see you, guide your resultant scar and monitor to see if further interventions are needed. Contact Us for more information

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What happens after surgery?

Feel free to read our Patient Resources Section, it outlines what happens when you have surgery with us.

You will receive a postoperative instruction sheet right after your surgery. Then when your wound has healed and cancer long gone you will receive another Scar instruction sheet designed to maximise the cosmetic appearance of the scar. Of course, you will be seen again down the line by Dr Kim to see whether we can do anything else to optimise your scar.


Does receiving a local anaesthetic hurt

Yes there is a very brief discomfort with any injection. But there are a number of things we do to make it less unpleasant- we warm up the local anaesthetic agent, we use very very fine needle and inject very very slowly. When the initial dose is given, we wait, and come back again.  Just part of us making your experience a little better.  We even treat children under local anaesthetic to save them from having a general anaesthetic. And if you really don’t like it, we ask for a help from Specialist Anaethetists in accredited hospitals. We’re here to look after you and make you as comfortable as possible. 🙂




Number Of Skin Cancers Treated In Australia Each Year
5 Year Percentage Survival Rate Of Newly Diagnosed Melanoma In Australia
New Melanoma Cases Per Year In Australia
It is extremely important to become more familiar with skin cancers especially in Australia. 2 out 3 Australians will have a skin cancer by the age of 70 but if diagnosed early and treated early it has excellent outcomes. Regular skin checks with a specialist dermatologist, specialist plastic surgeon or qualified general practitioners are crucial.

Feel free to click on the links below to learn more. If in doubt, Ask Us

Cancer Council Information

Australian Government on Skin Cancers



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