Skin Cancer

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is caused by damage to the skin, usually from too much ultraviolet radiation from the sun. 1

There are three major types of skin cancer: 1

  • Melanoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
  • Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)

Squamous cell carcinoma and Basal cell carcinoma are both non-melanoma skin cancers. Melanoma is the most serious of skin cancers. 1 Merkel cell carcinoma is another rare type of skin cancer.

Stages of skin cancer

Melanoma stages

Melanoma can be described in stages from 0 to IV, which are aimed at determining the depth (or thickness) of the melanoma and the involvement of the lymph nodes and other organs: 5

  • Stage 0 = less than 0.1mm
  • Stage I = less than 2mm
  • Stage II = greater than 2mm
  • Stage III = the melanoma has spread to the lymph nodes
  • Stage IV = spread to other areas of the body

Non-Melanoma stages

Non-melanoma usually a biopsy will be performed to determine the stage of the cancer, as well as the use of the TNM system, which stands for: 7

  • Tumour – the degree to which the tumour has affected other tissue.
  • Node – is a measure of whether lymph nodes have been affected.
  • Metastasis – the degree to which the cancer has spread to other organs of the body.

Melanoma signs and symptoms

Melanoma often has no symptoms, but the first sign you may notice is a mole that changes in appearance, such as: 5

It may increase in size

The colour may change and become blotchy

The mole may bleed or itch

It can become raised

The edges of the mole may become irregular

Squamous cell carcinoma signs and symptoms

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) accounts for approximately 30% of non-melanoma cancers, and tends to grow quickly over a few weeks or months.6

Symptoms include:6

A sore that doesn’t seem to heal

Tender or sore to touch

A lump that grows quickly

A thick, scaly red spot

Basal cell carcinoma signs and symptoms

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) accounts for approximately 70% of non-melanoma cancers, it often has very few or no symptoms and tends to be slow growing.6

Symptoms include:

Scaly patches of skin

that could be pale and shiny or bright pink

Flesh-coloured lump


Frequently asked questions

Should you protect your eyes as well as your skin from the sun?

Yes. Unprotected sun exposure can result in burns to the eyes, just like the skin, resulting in and cancer of the cornea (the outermost layer of the eye) or conjunctiva (thin layer that covers the front part of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelids) and increases the risk of cataracts.3

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists endorse the following points in protecting your eyes from sun damage and related cancers.2

Cancer Council Australia recommend using eye protection when the UV (ultraviolet) index is greater than 3 by:

  • Reducing exposure to UV sunlight (and other sources) as much as possible.
  • Using wraparound sunglasses that meet the Australian & New Zealand Standards.
  • Wear a broad-rimmed or bucket hat to aid further UV protection.
What about the benefits of sun exposure to our skin for vitamin D levels?

There is strong evidence to suggest that vitamin D is essential in making strong bones and maintaining skeletal health.  Whilst some vitamin D can be obtained from the diet, our main source of vitamin D is from the sun.

Based on the position statement approved by the Australian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society, the Australasian College of Dermatologists, Cancer Council Australia, Endocrine Society of Australia and Osteoporosis Australia, the following recommendations have been made for the general healthy population: 4

  • When the UV index* is below 3:
    • It is not recommended to use sun protection
    • It is recommended to spend some time outside in the middle of the day on most days to aid vitamin D production.
  • When the UV index* is 3 or above:
    • It is recommended to use sun protection in the form of; wide brimmed hats, sunglasses, sunscreen and shade if you are going to be outside for more than a few minutes.


For a full list of references, click here.
  1. Skin Cancer. (2019). Cancer Council. Retrieved on 15th February 2019 from
  2. Fact sheet – eye protection. (n.d). Cancer Council Australia. Retrieved on 15th February 2019 from
  3. Melanoma Factsheet. (n.d). Cancer Council. Retrieved on 15th February 2019 from
  4. Position statement – Sun exposure and vitamin D – risks and benefits. Cancer Council Australia. (2016). Retrieved on 15th February 2019 from
  5. Melanoma. (2019). Cancer Council. Retrieved on 15th February 2019 from
  6. Non-melanoma. (2019). Cancer Council. Retrieved on 15th February 2019 from
  7. TNM System (2016). Cancer Council. Retrieved on 15th February 2019 from

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  • Level B3, Bowen Specialist Medical Centre 98 Churchill Drive Crofton Downs Wellington 6035