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What are the different types of skin cancer?
Skin Institute
March 1, 2017

Skin cancer, including melanoma, is New Zealand’s most common cancer with almost 70,000 New Zealanders diagnosed every year. It’s estimated that skin cancers account for 80% of all new cancers each year. *

“Having a skin cancer diagnosed is an insurmountable fear for many people, however not having it diagnosed is worse and the vast majority who are diagnosed with skin cancer and then treated are astounded at how easy the process was and how much relief they felt from the process”. Dr Marcus Platts Mills, Dermatology Associate, Skin Cancer

Excessive exposure to sunlight is the single most damaging factor associated with the development of skin cancers, which most commonly develop on the highly sun exposed parts of the body – the face and arms.

If you’re diagnosed with skin cancer, it’s important to understand which type you have and what your treatment options are.  There are three main types of skin cancer – melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and basal cell carcinoma (BCC). Melanoma is the most serious type of cancer, with over 4,000 kiwis diagnosed, and around 300 dying each year .  Non – melanoma skin cancers (SCC and BCC) are far more common and tend to be less serious than melanoma.

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
Basal Cell cancers can vary greatly in their appearance, but people often first become aware of them as a scab that bleeds occasionally and does not heal completely. Some BCC are very superficial and look like a pink/red flat mark, and others have a pearl-like rim surrounding a central crater.

The treatment for a BCC depends on its type, size and location, and the number to be treated, however most BCCs are treated surgically. Regular skin assessments with a specialist are recommended following an initial diagnosis, to check for new lesions and recurrence.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
Squamous Cell cancers usually grow more rapidly, and the lesions are typically crusty and tender. SCC is nearly always treated surgically, in most cases being excised with a 3-10mm margin of normal tissue around the visible tumour. A flap or skin graft may be needed to repair the defect. Thousands of New Zealanders are treated for SCC each year, and more than 100 die from their disease. **

Compared to other forms of cancer, these types of skin cancer can be recognised in their early stages and are therefore easily cured. The key warning signs are a new growth, a spot or bump that’s getting larger over time, or a sore that doesn’t heel in a few weeks.  Both types enlarge from the point where they first occur and usually don’t spread to distant parts of the body.

Malignant Melanoma
Melanoma, on the other hand may be life threatening if not treated early. It usually appears as a brownish – black spot or bump on the skin that enlarges and sometimes bleeds, and can sometimes arise in moles you’ve had for many years. If left untreated, it can spread rapidly to other parts of the body. New Zealand has the highest incidence of melanoma in the world, with around 300 dying every year. Melanoma can affect anyone at any age, however there are some factors that may contribute to a more common diagnosis in certain people:

  • Family or personal history of skin cancer
  • Fair skin
  • Red, blonde or fair hair
  • Skin type that burns easily
  • Skin damage due to sunburn
  • Sunbed use
  • Many moles or large moles

Treatment options
If you’re diagnosed with skin cancer, your treatment options depend on several factors including the location of the cancer, its size and previous therapies used. At Skin Institute, you’ll find both simple and advanced skin cancer treatment and management, with specialty surgeries for difficult (and prominent) areas like the face.

Mohs micrographic or CCPDMA surgery is the best method of removing skin cancer and ensuring that the skin cancer is completely excised at the time of procedure. Mohs micrographic/CCPDMA surgery has the highest cure rates for skin cancer (up to 99% when compared with other treatments for skin cancer***) and optimises the end cosmetic result.

At Skin Institute, we understand that skin cancer can be an intimidating diagnosis to come to terms with. Our expert team of qualified specialists are trained in the management of skin cancer, offering everything from assessment to post-treatment care. Whether you just want peace of mind about your skin health, or you’re concerned about a specific mole or lesion, our team of skin cancer specialists will provide you with expert care – your partner along the way to skin health. We’ve treated over 20,000 patients with skin cancer over the last ten years, so we know just how common skin cancer is. If you do find yourself with a form of skin cancer, you’re definitely not alone.

“With over 20 years of managing skin cancer it continues be challenging. No two people are the same and each lesion is different. The challenge is to come up with a unique solution for the problem which delivers the optimum result for the patient”. Dr Mark Gray, Mohs Surgeon, Dermatologist, Dermatopathologist

If you have 1-2 lesions or moles that are concerning you, book a free spot check**** today.  If you’ve never had your skin checked by a specialist (or it’s been a few years since your last check), you can book a full body skin cancer consultation for a more thorough assessment.

*Figures from The Cost of Skin Cancer to New Zealand – A report to The Cancer Society of New Zealand (2009)

** Statistic from DermNet New Zealand

*** Statistic from DermNet New Zealand

**** a free spot check is for checking 1-2 lesions or moles of concern.  It is not an offer of a full body skin cancer consultation.  A cost applies for full body skin cancer consultations.