Health conditions

Skin cancer

This information provided by Cancer Council Western Australia (external site).

At least two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer before the age of 70.

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer develops when a cell in the skin goes through a series of changes that make it a cancer cell.

Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and other sources (such as solariums and arc welding) is the main factor that causes skin cells to become cancer cells.

What happens when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation?

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or other sources can damage skin cells and stop the immune system from working properly.

Unprotected exposure to UV radiation can result in:

  • sunburn
  • premature ageing of the skin and wrinkles
  • blotches, blemishes and age spots
  • eye damage
  • skin cancer.

Who is at risk of developing skin cancer?

Most people living in Australia are at risk of developing skin cancer. You are at higher risk of developing skin cancer if you have:

  • fair skin that burns easily and does not tan
  • blue or green eyes and/or fair or red hair
  • suffered sunburn as a child
  • spent your childhood in Australia
  • a large number of freckles or moles
  • a family or personal history of skin cancer
  • used a solarium
  • worked or spent a lot of leisure time in the sun.

Diagnosis of skin cancer

Skin cancer is usually diagnosed by a GP or dermatologist (skin specialist) who examines the skin, often using a hand held microscope (dermatoscope).

They may take a biopsy under a local anaesthetic to make a definite diagnosis. A biopsy involves removing a sample of cells and examining them under a microscope.

If a melanoma is suspected, X-rays, scans and/or blood tests may be used to check whether there are any signs that the cancer has spread.

Treatment of skin cancer

Your GP or specialist will advise you of the best treatment taking into account the type and size of the cancer, its location, your age, general health and your treatment preference.

Possible treatments include:

  • surgery
  • radiation therapy
  • chemotherapy creams that simulate the immune system
  • photodynamic therapy.

Find out more about different treatments for cancer.

After treatment regular check-ups are needed for early detection of any new skin cancers.

If you notice any spots you are worried about between follow-up appointments it is important to speak with your GP or specialist as soon as possible.

More information

More information on cancer treatment is available from Cancer Council Western Australia (external site).

Where to get help

This information provided by
Logo: Cancer Council Western Australia

Cancer Council Western Australia

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.