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Skin cancer types: What are the different kinds of skin cancer?

Skin cancer types: What are the different kinds of skin cancer?

Skin cancer types: What are the different kinds of skin cancer?

Skin cancer is sometimes referred to as ‘Australia’s cancer’ because of its prevalence in our country.

In fact, about two in three Australians will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer before the age of 70.

Yet despite this, many of us know very little about the different skin cancer types, what they look like, and how they spread.

Here’s a rundown of the most common skin cancer types and what to look out for.

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells in the skin.

The sun’s ultraviolet radiation is the main cause of skin cancer, so it’s no surprise that Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world.

Skin cancer often starts when UV radiation damages the skin’s cells, changing their structure. The more the skin is damaged by UV, the less the body is able to repair itself and the risk of skin cancer increases.

What does skin cancer look like?

Sometimes the presence of skin cancer is visible, like a mole that changes shape or colour, although sometimes it’s not.

Sometimes what looks like just a blemish may actually be the beginning of skin cancer that needs to be treated immediately.

Start by looking for a changing spot and/or a spot that looks very different from all your other spots.

They don’t need to be brown or black and, in fact, most non-melanoma skin cancers are pink or a fleshy colour.

Bleeding and pain are other clues to look for. Skin cancer can be flat or raised and can often be mistaken for a rash or a sore.

Even if you don’t have any moles or tan well, you can still develop skin cancer so make sure you pay attention to any changes in your skin.

You can learn more about what skin cancer looks like in this article.

What are the main types of skin cancer?

There are three main types of skin cancer:

Basal cell carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma is can be a fast or slow growing cancer most often found on the head and neck and areas that get more sun exposure, although it can be found anywhere on the skin. It is mainly caused by sun exposure.

Basal cell carcinoma may appear as a pearl-coloured lump or slightly scaly area that is shiny and pale or bright pink. Some may appear darker.

In some cases, the skin may become inflamed, appear to heal, and then become inflamed again. Bleeding is also common for basal cell carcinoma.

Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cells form most of the epidermis and about 20 per cent of skin cancers develop from these cells.

Squamous cell carcinoma is mainly caused by sun exposure.

While it is the most common type of lip cancer, squamous cell carcinoma does not appear as frequently on the lip as it does on other parts of the body. This type of skin cancer is more commonly found on chronically sun-exposed skin such as hands, face, ears, and the scalp.

Squamous cell carcinoma often appears as a thickened, scaly or crusted spot, or rapidly growing lump.


Melanocytes are pigment-producing cells in the epidermis of our skin that gives skin its colour. (Fun fact: dark coloured skin and light-coloured skin have the same number of melanocytes in the epidermis. The only difference is that dark skinned individuals have more pigment ‘sacks’ than lighter skinned individuals).

Melanoma starts in melanocytes and is the most deadly type of skin cancer. Most melanomas appear on regular skin, not pre-existing moles.

Often melanoma has no symptoms however, the first sign is generally a changing new spot or a change in an existing spot.

Types of melanoma:

There are three main types of melanoma, including:

  1. Superficial spreading melanoma: This is the most common form, and is responsible for about 75 per cent of all melanomas. It presents as an odd-looking mole, often with multiple colours that gets larger in diameter. It occurs mainly on sun-exposed skin.
  2. Lentigo maligna: Often a slow growing, odd-looking brown and black spot on the face. It often presents in elderly people.
  3. Nodular melanoma: This is the most aggressive type of melanoma. It accounts for about 10-15 per cent of all melanomas. It often presents as a rapidly growing, uniform coloured (black or pink) lump. One third of nodular melanoma are pink.

While most melanomas occur on sun-exposed skin, it is worth noting that melanomas can occur on the soles of the feet, palms of the hands, or under a nail – and these melanomas are often not related to sun exposure. It is therefore important to check these sites and not ignore a changing lesion.

Book your skin cancer check today

Skin cancer takes too many lives every year – lives that could have been saved if the skin cancer had been detected early. That’s why it’s so important to book an appointment for a skin cancer check with Bass Coast Skin Doctors now.

At Bass Coast Skin Doctors, we offer full-body skin checks and state-of-the-art mole mapping. Our doctors have years of experience in treating skin and work to the highest industry standards to ensure treatments are safe and comfortable for patients.

Book a consultation at our clinic or phone (03) 5618 7007 to find out more.