Skin cancer

Created 1997. Updated by Dr Emily Ryder, Dermatology Registrar, June 2017.

What is skin cancer?

A skin cancer is a tumour in which there is uncontrolled proliferation of any of the skin cells, whereas the normal process of regeneration of skin involves replication of the cells in a controlled fashion. Each subtype of skin cancer has unique characteristics.

The most common forms of skin cancer are:

The term non-melanoma skin cancer refers to all types of skin cancer apart from melanoma. BCC and SCC are also called keratinocyte cancers.

Early, superficial skin cancers include:

Many different types of less common skin cancer are listed in the related information section at the bottom of this page.

Who gets skin cancer

Skin cancer most commonly affects older adults but it can also affect younger adults, and rarely, children.

What causes skin cancer?

The common forms of skin cancer listed above are related to exposure to ultraviolet radiation (from sunlight or tanning beds) and the effects of ageing. Other risks include:

Some skin cancers are due to genetic conditions, such as:

What are the clinical features of skin cancer?

Skin cancers generally appear as a lump or nodule, an ulcer, or a changing lesion.  

What are the complications of skin cancer?

Skin cancer can usually be treated and cured before complications occur. Signs of an advanced, aggressive or neglected skin cancer may include:

How is skin cancer diagnosed?

Skin cancers are generally diagnosed clinically by a dermatologist or family doctor, when learning of an enlarging, crusting or bleeding lesion.  The lesion will be inspected carefully, and ideally, a full skin examination will also be conducted.

What is the differential diagnosis of skin cancer?

The differential diagnosis of skin cancer depends on the specific lesion.  

What is the treatment for skin cancer?

Early treatment of a skin cancer is usually cures it. The majority of skin cancers are treated surgically, using local anaesthetic to numb the skin. Surgical techniques include:

Treatment options for superficial skin cancers include:

Treatment for advanced or metastatic basal cell carcinoma may include targeted therapies vismodegib and sonidegib.

Treatment for advanced and metastatic melanoma may include:

Patients with skin cancer may be at increased risk of developing other skin cancers. They may be advised to:

What is the outcome for skin cancer?

Most skin cancer can be completely cured with early treatment. Advanced skin cancers are more difficult to treat and can lead to death. 


Related information

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