Over three quarters of a million people in Australia are treated for some form of skin cancer every year, with two thirds of Australians receiving a skin cancer diagnosis by the time they are 70, according to statistics from the Cancer Council Australia.
The most common skin lesions needing to be removed are either cancerous skin lesions or pre-cancerous lesions, such as 'sunspots', scaly spots on the skin which appear after longer term sun exposure (medical term - 'actinic keratoses'). Skin cancer lesions are one of three types:
Basal Cell Carcinoma
This is the most prevalent type of skin cancer, with around half of all Australians with a fair/European complexion developing basal cell carcinoma before the age of 70. The top layer of skin is composed of so-called 'squamous' cells, and basal cell carcinoma forms in the cells in the layer underneath the squamous cells. It is slow growing compared to the other two types of skin cancer and so will often respond to non-surgical treatment, such as topical creams, freezing or burning treatment, radiotherapy or photodynamic treatment.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous skin cells are present in the top layer of the skin and normally reproduce (by dividing) rapidly. When abnormal or cancerous squamous cells are present, they too grow rapidly, making this type of skin cancer aggressive and needing rapid treatment, generally via surgical excision.
Skin cells called 'melanocytes' protect the skin from the sun by releasing a pigment called melanin. Where these cells become cancerous this is called melanoma. In Australia, around 13,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma every year, with this type of skin cancer one of the commonest types of cancer (behind bowel cancer, prostate cancer and breast cancer). Melanoma can be fast growing and aggressive and is generally treated surgically.