Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer affecting people today and more relevantly, Australia has the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world. Melanoma has become the most common life-threatening cancer in the 15-44 year age group, yet despite intensive public health education from our national cancer councils, there are still thousands of Australians who die each year due to a delay in diagnosis.
Most skin cancers are curable if detected early but it is important to remember that early detection starts with YOU, at home. It is vital that you monitor your skin on a regular basis and be aware of any abnormalities or changes. To make sure you and your family are familiar with the A.B.C.D Guide to skin cancer, click here to download your very own skin cancer poster provided by the Cancer Council of Australia. Our doctors offer the community a comprehensive service aimed at the early detection and prompt treatment of skin cancers, including advanced screening techniques and both surgical and non-surgical treatment options.
Types of skin cancer:
- Melanoma: A form of cancer that manifests in the skin’s pigment cells (melanocytes). This most serious and life threatening form of skin cancer grows rapidly if left untreated and may easily spread to the deeper layers of the skin, the lymphatic system and blood stream before spreading to other parts of the body. Melanoma is caused by overexposure to UV radiation and can arise anywhere on the body, including areas that have never been exposed to the sun.
Early signs of melanoma include changes to the shape or colour of existing moles or new lumps anywhere on the skin that show characteristics of asymmetry, irregular borders and/or variegated colour. In later stages the mole may itch, ulcerate or bleed.
- Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC): The most common form of skin cancer presenting with a flat or raised shiny pink/red lesion. Although this form of skin cancer grows much slower that a melanoma and rarely metastasizes, it is still considered malignant (cancerous) and if detected early, can be successfully treated with minimal destruction to surrounding tissues.
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC): Another common form of skin cancer that normally presents in those aged 50 years and over. These scaly and occasionally tender lesions most often arise from solar keratoses (sun spots) and have a substantial risk of metastasis, especially to the lymphatic system.
Your doctor will use a dermatoscope to check all moles, a simple, painless and non-invasive procedure that may take up to 30 minutes. Assessment of your skin type and your susceptibility to skin cancers will also be explained, including information of what to look for at home. Our doctors use the latest in digital dermal photography, ensuring we can easily record and monitor any suspicious mole growth. Suspicious lesions found on the day may then be biopsied or excised for further pathological testing and treatment.
Based on pathology results, the lesion will be managed promptly with the most appropriate treatment method for your individual case. This may include a combination of one or more of the following surgical and non-surgical treatments available at the Tasmanian Skin Clinic.
- Cryotherapy: Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze and kill cancerous cells.
- Curettage and desiccation: A simple surgical technique used for superficial skin lesions.
- Non-surgical topical medication may be prescribed for some skin cancers.
- Surgical excision: Most skin cancers require surgical removal and depending on the circumstances, a skin graft or flap may additionally be performed in order to minimise scarring. Performed under local anaesthetic, this treatment option is considered a minor surgery and may be the most effective solution to promptly and effectively treat a cancerous lesion.
- Photodynamic Therapy (PDT): A revolutionary treatment for significantly sun-damaged skin, PDT is predominantly used to improve not only the skin’s physical appearance but also prevent existing areas of sun damage manifesting into cancerous lesions.
The procedure involves the application of a specialised, light-activated topical cream known as 5-ALA, which contains an active ingredient that once absorbed into the damaged cells, becomes extremely light sensitive. After an incubation period of between 2-4 hours, the skin is exposed to a light source (LED or IPL) resulting in the activation of the treatment and elimination of unhealthy cells. As activation only occurs in those damaged cells treated by the 5-ALA, healthy tissue is unharmed and scarring is unlikely.
Within 2-3 days of treatment, the exposed and sun-damaged skin will be red and possibly sore, then begin to peel, scab and flake off. While this is not an pleasant effect, it is a vital part of the treatment and necessary for the regeneration of new, healthy skin. 7-10 days post-treatment, the treated area should be healed, leaving noticeably clear and healthy skin behind.
PDT can be used to treat a range of conditions including;
- Hypertrophic lesions
- Sebaceous gland hyperplasia
- Uneven skin tone
- Fine lines
Speak with your doctor to determine whether PDT is an appropriate treatment method for you.
ABCD Guide to Melanoma
What to look for
A is for Asymmetry. Draw an imaginary line through the suspicious spot and if the two sides look considerably different then this should be seen to by a medical professional.
B is for Border. Check to see if the spot has uneven or irregular borders
C is for Colour. Spots with black, grey/white and/or red.
D is for Diameter. Look out for spots which are increasing in diameter