Common Skin Cancers
and Skin Lesions
Here are some
photographs and information on the common skin types. This
information is not enough to exclude skin cancer with a self-check
or home examination - some of the skin cancers have multiple
presentations, and some of the rarer but dangerous skin cancers are
not shown here.
If in doubt please
arrange a professional skin check.
Basal Cell Skin Cancer is the most common skin cancer in
Australia and usually the least dangerous, assuming it is dealt with
promptly and appropriately. BCC often presents as a pearly pink bump
or as a flat area of reddish or altered skin on the trunk.
If left untreated for a long time these lesions can erode underlying
muscle, bone, nerves or other nearby structures. Although rarely
fatal BCC can be very destructive.
very common for BCC
skin cancer to bleed
spontaneously or with minimal trauma - any such
bleeding lesion must be viewed with suspicion.
Most BCC is
linked to long term sun exposure.
Squamous Cell Cancer can present as a red or scaly plaque on the skin, these can
be tender and sore sometimes. These are more dangerous than BCC and
can spread / metastasize around the body. SCC kills 400
Australians every year.
SCC skin cancer is usually treated surgically, though
radiotherapy is sometimes used in certain cases.
Like BCC, SCC is also linked to long term sun exposure, but can
also be caused by exposure to the UV radiation of welding arcs.
SCC is also more common for patients on long term immune system
suppressing medication, eg organ transplant recipients.
Harmless moles can be light brown, dark brown or very dark and
they can be raised or flat.
Benign moles tend to be of
uniform colour, and tend to have round, smooth edges whereas
melanomas can be irregular and chaotic.
However, any mole which is changing, bleeding or has become
irregular in shape should be checked by a professional with skin
cancer training, and a suitable biopsy should be seriously
Some moles are present for life, but we do also gain and lose
moles during our lifetime.
People with darker skin tones tend to have darker moles than
people with lighter skin.
Melanoma accounts for 4% of Australian skin cancers, but causes
the majority of the deaths from skin cancer, over 1600 Australians a
year. Some melanomas may have variable colours throughout the
lesion, they may look irregular and chaotic.
Melanoma is the most common cause of death from cancer in the
15-45 year age group.
Melanoma can arise in pre-existing moles, but most new melanomas
occur on normal skin.
The risk of developing melanoma appears to be increased by a
history of sporadic sun burn, but melanomas can appear anywhere, not
just sun exposed areas.
Solar Keratoses or 'sunspots'; are damaged areas of skin that
have not yet become skin cancer, but given time might eventually
They are termed pre-malignant lesions.
It is normal practice to treat these pre-malignant skin areas if
possible, reducing the risk of future skin cancer.
of sunspots is normally non-surgical: freezing ie cryotherapy or
prescription creams are common treatments for sunspots.
These are scaly lesions that may appear 'stuck on' to the skin
surface and may be crumbly, itchy and tend to slowly darken over
time. They are genetic / inherited; there are not sun-related and
they are not generally dangerous but can be annoying or unslightly.
The majority of Australians will get some of these during their
liftime, often appearing from middle age onwards.
These lesions tend to start as skin coloured or light brown
lesions, but often become darker over time.
Other terms for these lesions include 'senile warts' or
'seborrhoeic warts' but they are not related to common/viral warts.
These are usually treated by non-surgical methods, if treatment
Also known as 'Bowen's disease' this is a milder form of SCC that
is limited to the surface, and has not become invasive - yet.
Bowen's disease can sometimes be present for years before
Bowen's disease often looks like a red, scaly plaque on the skin.
Although surgery is an effective treatment, there are other less
invasive treatments for this common skin cancer, including
The most dangerous form of melanoma: nodular melanoma is usually
a smooth, firm, growing bump. It can be darkly pigmented or just
skin coloured (amelanotic). Nodular melanoma is highly dangerous as
it tends to invade inwards more than grow across the skin.