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What is Skin Cancer?

What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer occurs when skin cells are damaged, for example, by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. Some UV radiation from the sun is important for health but too much UV can cause sunburn, skin and eye damage and skin cancer. Skin cancer occurs when skin cells are damaged, and between 95 and 99 types of skin cancers in Australia are caused by exposure to the sun.

Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world with 2 in every 3 Australians being diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetimes. In Victoria alone, 357 people die from skin cancer every year. If detected early however, the majority of skin cancers can be successfully treated.

Prevention and regular check ups of your skin should detect any suspicious spots as soon as they develop.

Types of Skin Cancer

There are three types of skin cancer. These are Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC), Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) or Melanomas.

Basal Cell CarcinomaBasal Cell Skin Cancer (BCC)

  • Most Common form of skin cancer
  • Least dangerous form of skin cancer
  • May appear as a lump or scaly area
  • Colour: Red, Pale or Pearly/Pale
  • Usually grows slowly
  • Usually appears on the head, neck or upper torso
  • Can become ulcerated as it grows

Squamous Cell CarinomaSquamous Cell Skin Cancer (BCC)

  • Grows over a period of weeks or months
  • May spread if not treated
  • Occurs mostly to areas that are exposed to the sun
  • May appear as thickened, red, scaly spots


  • Most dangerous form of skin cancer
  • Melanoma Skin Cancer
  • Develops over weeks to months
  • Usually curable if caught early
  • If it spreads it can be difficult to cure
  • Can appear as a new spot or existing spot (freckle or mole that changes colour, size or shape)
  • Irregular outline and texture and more than one colour often
  • Number one prevention is by not getting sunburnt