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Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the skin.
There are three main types of skin cancer:
BCC and SCC are sometimes called non-melanoma skin cancers. There are other rare skin cancers, such Merkel cell carcinoma, Kaposi sarcoma or T cell lymphoma of the skin, but these cancers are treated very differently from BCCs and SCCs.
Australia has the highest rates of melanoma in the world, with over 12,500 cases diagnosed in Australia in 2012. Melanoma is considered the most serious type of skin cancer.
Left untreated, a melanoma may spread deeper into the skin where cancer cells can escape and be carried in lymph or blood vessels to other parts of the body. The earlier melanoma is diagnosed, the better the chance of cure.
BCC makes up about 70% of non-melanoma skin cancers.
Often BCCs have no symptoms. They tend to grow slowly and don’t usually spread to other parts of the body. The earlier a BCC is found, the easier it will be to treat.
However, if a BCC is left untreated or grows larger than 5 cm, it may grow deeper into the skin and damage nearby tissue. This may make treatment more difficult and increase the chance of the BCC returning.
SCC accounts for about 30% of non-melanoma skin cancers.
SCCs tend to grow quickly over several weeks or months. It is possible for SCCs to spread to other parts of the body if left untreated.
Bowen’s disease (also called squamous cell carcinoma in situ) looks like a red, scaly patch. It is an early form of skin cancer found in the outer layer of the skin (epidermis). If not treated, it can sometimes develop into a SCC.