Skin cancer

Note: The information on cancer types on the ACRF website is not designed to provide medical or professional advice and is for information only. If you have any health problems or questions please consult your doctor.

Skin Cancer Statistics

  • From 1982 to 2010 melanoma diagnoses increased by around 60%.
  • In 2011, 2087 people died from skin cancer in Australia. The majority of these deaths were due to melanoma, with 1544 deaths from melanoma that year, compared with 543 deaths from non-melanoma skin cancers.
  • More than 374,000 Australians annually are diagnosed with basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma. Melanoma incidence in Australia and New Zealand is four times higher than in Canada, the UK and the US.
  • Melanoma is the most common cancer in young Australians aged 15–39 years old.
More cancer stats

Learn more about skin cancer, the most common cancer in Australians, at

The dedicated skin cancer site hosts information and latest skin cancer research news in one place.

Skin Cancer Overview

Skin cancer develops when skin cells go through a dynamic change that makes them cancerous.

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the major environmental cause of skin cancer, especially when overexposure to UV radiation results in sunburn and blistering. Other less common causes of skin cancer include repeated exposure to x-rays, and industrial compounds like coal tar and arsenic.

Skin Cancer Types

Skin cancers are named after the type of cell they develop from. The most common forms are basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer – these are sometimes called non-melanoma skin cancer. The third type of skin cancer is melanoma.

Basal Cell Carcinomas appear like a small, slow growing shiny pink or red lump and if left, become crusty, ulcerate and bleed. They are commonly found on the face, scalp, ears, hands, shoulders and back.

Squamous Cell Carcinomas are commonly pink lumps and look like a red patch.

Melanoma begins in melanocytes, the skin cells producing the melanin pigment that produces moles, freckles and skin tan. Melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer, and one of the most aggressive of all cancers. Melanoma may arise directly from a melanocyte, when it turns into a normal mole or an irregular mole, which then becomes cancerous.

Merkel Cell Carcinoma is an uncommon type of skin cancer that occurs when the Merkel cells grow out of control. It is one of the most dangerous types of skin cancer as it is more likely to spread to other parts of the body if not diagnosed early and treatment is difficult if it has spread.

Skin Cancer Treatment

Basal cell carcinomas are highly curable and treatments include curettage(removing tissue by scraping or scooping) and electrodessication, radiation therapy, standard excision and surgery.

Most squamous cell carcinomas can be cured with minor surgery.

All melanomas are removed surgically. When melanoma is at an early stage, limited to the skin, it can often be removed with a simple surgical excision, with a skin graft often used to replace the skin removed.

Treatment for more advanced skin cancer commonly uses a combination of surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Biological therapies, which use substances occurring naturally in the body to stimulate the immune system, are also used to treat melanoma, and work is currently underway to develop a melanoma vaccine.

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