During a recent survey of The Latch’s audience, we discovered that 37% have never had a skin check before and 27% haven’t had one in a few years. While scary, these figures aren’t surprising given that Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Despite the prevalence of skin cancer amongst Australians, many of these cases are entirely preventable and, when detected and treated early, 90% of cases can usually be cured.
With this in mind, The Latch has created The Check-Up — a content series that will educate you on all things sun safety as well as the seriousness of skin cancer and specifically, melanoma. Check back each week for helpful and informative content on everything you need to know about this important topic.
While melanoma is arguably the most well-known skin cancer, it isn’t the only one. There are actually another two main types of skin cancer — basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma — but melanoma usually gets the most attention as it is the deadliest of the three.
According to SunSmart, the basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are often grouped together as they are known as non-melanoma skin cancers. In fact, basal cell carcinoma is by far the most common skin cancer so its important for you to know as much about this as you do melanoma.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
“Basal cell is the most common skin cancer, it makes up approximately 75% of all skin cancers,” Dr Annika Smith, a dermatologist with a special interest in medical dermatology and skin cancer diagnostics, management and prevention, who also works with Melanoma Institute Australia, told The Latch. “Basal cell carcinoma is generally associated with a good prognosis though, with it having a low-risk of metastatic potential, as opposed to melanoma.”
Metastatic refers to the spread of cancer, as unlike normal cells, cancer cells have the potential to grow outside of the place they originated. When this happens, it’s called metastatic cancer, says the Cleveland Clinic.
According to SunSmart, basal cell carcinomas are generally slow-growing and usually appear on the head, neck and upper torso. “It may appear as a lump or dry, scaly area. It can be red, pale or pearly in colour,” reads the SunSmart website. “As it grows, it may ulcerate or appear like a sore that does not heal properly. The earlier BCC is detected, the easier it is to treat.”
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
While squamous cell carcinoma might not be as life-threatening as melanoma, it is the second most common form of skin cancer and can spread to other parts of the body if not treated. “It grows over some months and appears on skin most often exposed to the sun,” says SunSmart. “It can be a thickened, red, scaly spot that may bleed easily, crust or ulcerate.”
Diagnosing non-melanoma skin cancer
As for diagnosing these types of skin cancers, much like melanoma, you’re looking for new lesions or changes in the skin. If anything is causing you concern, it’s best to head to your doctor so they can check it out.
Dr Smith indicates, “Non-melanoma skin cancers can present in a variety of ways, typically as a new or changing skin lesion. In the case of BCC, this could present as pink/red scaly spot or a new translucent nodule, that may have bled or ulcerated.
“SCCs similarly can present as red scaly plaques in their early stages or nodules that may have associated scale, ulceration or tenderness Always pay attention to any non-healing lesions or persistent sores on the skin, which also may be a sign of skin cancer in evolution. The bottom line is, if anything on your skin piques your attention or concern, seek prompt medical review with your local doctor or dermatologist.”
If you have any concerns, make an appointment with your GP to discuss.