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Notes on Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is a really scary reality of sun exposure and one we should all take very seriously. While some people are more susceptible or considered at higher risk (those with fair skin, lots of freckles and red hair) cancer doesn’t discriminate, and people of all skin types, colours and ages can develop it. So it’s important to have regular checks with your doctor and dermatologist to monitor any changes to the skin and a preventative approach absolutely applies here. 

How does skin cancer develop?

Skin cancer is caused by exposure to UV light which damages the skin on a cellular level, and as this damage occurs over time through regular exposure and sunburns the cells can become abnormal and turn cancerous. There are three different types of skin cancer triggered by sun exposure; melanoma, basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). These cancers get their names from the three forms of skin cells in the body, basal cells, squamous cells and melanocytes. When it comes to skin cancer people often look for irregular moles rather than irregular skin, however, there isn’t one size fits all, cancer can present in many different forms so understanding skin cancers, staying extra vigilant with check-ups and sun protection are key.

Types of skin cancer

Melanoma is the most well-known of the three and the most deadly. They typically appear in large irregular shapes. For example, the mole isn’t round but rather has an uneven border, with strange or uneven colouring. But there’s no playbook — melanomas can come in all shapes and sizes. Melanoma is a highly aggressive and fast-advancing form of cancer, so if you notice any skin irregularities and spots that appear to look different, or are irregularly shaped or coloured, it’s imperative to have them checked right away.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)

A less aggressive form of cancer than melanoma but one of the most common, BCCs equate to almost 70 per cent of non-melanoma cancers cases in Australia. This form of cancer can appear anywhere on the body however they are more commonly found on the head, neck and arms, presenting in many different ways. They typically appear as a small flesh-coloured round mound, sometimes as a smooth bump or with a pearly shine to it.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)

SCCs are the second most common form of skin cancer, they can appear as a thick, red or scaly spot that bleeds. Sometimes their appearance has them mistaken for dry or rough patches of skin. SCCs are commonly found on the face, neck and arms, however, they can spread to other areas of the body. 

Preventative approach

Like everything skin-related my approach is a preventative one. Sun damage can so easily be minimised or avoided with diligent sun protection. Sunscreen is the most important product in our skincare repertoire and one that should be applied every day after a moisturiser and before makeup. Make sure you are applying a broad spectrum SPF of at least 30+, and reapplying as needed. While sunscreen application is a must, even when applied liberally and consistently it can only do so much, so it’s vital when exposed to UV light, especially for long periods of time, to take extra precautions in the form of hats, sunglasses and protective clothing. Not only will this help to protect your skin and greatly reduce the chances of developing cancer, but it’s also key to helping the skin age gracefully.