Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
This is the most common, but least dangerous type of skin cancer. Almost 300,000 people are diagnosed with this condition each year in Australia, and it more commonly occurs in people over the age of 40. It grows from cells in the bottom (basal) part of the outer layer of the skin, and the growth tends to be slower.
This type of cancer rarely spreads throughout the body. Though the least dangerous, it should not be taken lightly and still needs to be treated immediately. BCC occurs most commonly on the face, head, neck and trunk areas of the body, and can be found in areas which are difficult to treat, including the eyelids and lower legs. BCC is curable in most cases, with better cosmetic outcomes the earlier it’s caught.
Types of BCCs include:
- Nodular and nodular-ulcerative: A common type of BCC that usually occurs on the face. They grow slowly, usually starting off as small, round, hard, red or red-grey lumps. If left untreated, they will grow larger and begin to ulcerate.
- Superficial: The least aggressive of BCCs, superficial BCCs are mainly found on the body. They appear as a scaly red, round to oval patch, up to 3 cm in diameter. If left untreated, they can grow as large as 10-15 cm without any ulceration. The edge of this type is difficult to distinguish. They may be a little itchy at times.
- Pigmented BCC: More common with people of darker skin, these BCCs are similar to the nodular BCCs, with areas of pigmentation (darker areas). Due to its appearance, it may be confused with the more serious melanoma.
- Morphoeic BCC: These look a little like firm yellow-white scars and are often mistaken for them. The borders are usually indistinct, so they can also be bigger than you first think. As they have an aggressive growth, it is important to get early treatment – they can invade muscles, nerves and bone if left alone.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
The second most common form of skin cancer, SCCs start in the outer layer of the skin and they have the ability to spread throughout the body fast. They often start as a scaly lump on the skin, but they can also look like an ulcer or a lesion of thickened, red and scaly skin.
This is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, with 1,200 Australians dying from melanoma each year. According to the Cancer Council Australia, melanoma affects over 11,000 Australians each year. The average age of a person diagnosed with melanoma is 61 years old, so those who are older will be more susceptible to developing this form of cancer.
The majority of melanoma is caused by frequent UV exposure, especially in those who have had multiple sunburns from tanning beds or sunbaking. Melanoma often resemble moles, and the majority are black and brown in colour, but, they can also be pink, purple, red, blue or white. If melanoma is recognised and treated early, it is almost always curable. If not, the cancer can spread quickly to other parts of the body, which becomes hard to treat, and can even be fatal. While melanoma isn’t the most common form of cancer, it does cause the most deaths.
It is important you get to know your own skin so that you can recognise new or changing moles. In addition to this, it is advisable to have annual, professional skin cancer checks to detect melanomas at the earliest stage possible when treatment is most effective.