What’s that Spot? The ABCs on Skin Cancer

What’s that Spot? The ABCs on Skin Cancer
November 24, 2017 Sheree Moko

A significant part of a Specialist Plastic Surgeon’s practice in Australia involves the management of skin damaged by over exposure to the sun.

In addition to the development of skin cancer, overexposure to sunlight is also a leading factor in ageing skin.

Whether the condition is medical or cosmetic, correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment is vital. In some instances surgery might be required. That’s why it’s important to consult with a qualified Specialist Plastic Surgeon trained in both reconstructive and cosmetic procedures.

Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. It is the most common of all cancers. Australia has the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world; more than two-thirds of the Australian population will develop a skin cancer of some kind during their lives.

Skin cancer usually occurs in people who have been exposed to too much ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun. People in the higher risk category of developing skin cancer usually have:

  • Fair skin and freckle easily
  • Light-coloured hair and eyes
  • A large number of moles, or moles of unusual size or shape
  • A family history of skin cancer or a personal history of blistering sunburn
  • Spent a lot of time working or playing outdoors
  • Intense, year-round sun exposure. This includes people who live closer to the equator, at a
  • higher altitude, or in any place that gets intense sunshine

Types of Skin Cancer

There are three main types of skin cancer: Basal Cell Carcinoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma and Melanoma. The first two are often called “non-melanoma skin cancer”.

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) is by far the most common type of skin cancer. Fortunately, it’s also the least dangerous. However, if left untreated, it can grow deep beneath the skin and into the underlying tissue and bone, causing serious damage, particularly if it is located near the eye.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is faster growing than Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC). Of those Australians with skin cancer, about 2 in 10 have a SCC. It frequently appears on the head, neck, hands and forearms, which typically receive more sunlight. SCC is more dangerous than BCC because it can spread to other parts of the body if not treated promptly.

Melanoma is usually highly malignant, it occurs in only about 5 people out of 100 with skin cancer. Melanoma can usually be treated successfully if diagnosed early. If it’s not treated quickly, however,

1malignant melanoma may spread throughout the body and is often deadly. About half of all cases of melanoma develop from moles. The other half develop on previously normal skin as a new lesion.

Skin Protection 101

Over exposure to sunlight in childhood and adolescence is a major factor in the development of skin damage and skin cancer.

Skin damage is common in the ‘baby boomer’ generation which pre-dates the routine and protective use of sunscreens we see today.

However, despite public health education messages over the last 20 years, there is a rise in the number of young adults and even teenagers being diagnosed with skin cancer related to over- exposure to the sun.

To reduce the risk of developing skin cancer, everyone should:

  • Avoid tanning booths
  • Avoid the sun between 10am and 3pm when UV intensity is at its greatest
  • Wear a broad-brimmed hat and UV-protective sunglasses
  • Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants of tightly woven cotton
  • Use sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30+
  • Apply sunscreen before swimming or exercising to allow it to absorb into the skin
  • Replace the sunscreen every few hours if perspiring or swimming
  • Wear protective swimwear at the beach, this is especially important for children

Where do I go for more information?

More information can be found on the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons Inc (ASPS) website at www.plasticsurgery.org.au and the Australasian Foundation for Plastic Surgery Limited’s website at www.plasticsurgeryfoundation.org.au. Patients are also welcome to contact the ASPS office on the Information Hotline: 1300 367 446 or by email: info@plasticsurgery.org.au.

ASPS is the peak body for Specialist Plastic Surgeons (both reconstructive and cosmetic). Membership criteria is stringent and by invitation only. All members of ASPS are FRACS accredited Specialist Plastic Surgeons and have undertaken a minimum of 12 years medical and surgical education, including at least 5 years of specialist postgraduate training which is accredited by the Australian Medical Council.