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Know the Signs: How to Identify Types of Skin Cancers

What kinds of skin cancers are there?

It’s important to understand that there are three primary forms:

  1. Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
  2. Melanoma
  3. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC).

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)

Forming approximately 70% of all skin cancers that are non-melanoma, BCC usually originates on the upper body, head or neck [1]. It may appear to be scaly, dry or even pearly-looking, and is typically of a brighter pink colour. From time to time, these lumps can bleed or become somewhat inflamed. In other cases, dead tissue may begin to ulcerate around the area.

Usually, there are no symptoms. As they tend to grow very slowly but do not spread to other areas of the body, it can be even harder to identify a case. If left untreated, however, or if the lump grows bigger than 5cm, damage can be severe. In these instances, it’s likely that the BCC will damage nearby tissue and grow deeper into other levels of the skin.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

Making up approximately 30% of all non-melanoma skin cancers, SCC appears on areas of the body that are mostly exposed to sun [1]. These parts are usually the hands, neck, head, lower legs or even forearms. In some cases, SCC can even be mistaken for a sore throat that hasn’t gotten around to healing yet. Thick, red and scaly spots may be apparent and can quickly grow much larger. These lumps are often sore to touch and can appear to be a simple skin boil. If left untreated, SCC can spread to other parts of the body.


As the most severe form, melanomas develop from pigmented cells (melanocytes) differ in looks from one to the next. Usually, the first sign is an apparent change in a mole that is already somewhere on the body. Initially, the spot may grow in size and consistently get larger, whilst the mole may become blotchier or differ in depth of colour. The shape can be irregular and the perfect way to identify this is by drawing a line down the middle of it and assessing if both halves are symmetrical. Additionally, the spot may have some height to it, or can even become scaly. Bleeding and itching can occur from time to time, whilst reddish-brown colours can begin to arise.

The Melanoma Institute Australia recommends (in addition to regular self-checking) that people have a professional annual check as Doctors use a number of tools and techniques to examine the skin thoroughly, beyond what the naked eye can see.

Melanomas that are detected and treated early are cured in 90% of cases [2]. If you have any concerns or questions relating to Skin Cancer, we encourage you to speak directly to your Doctor.



1. SunSmart, ‘Skin Cancer Risk Factors’, 2016,

2. Cancer Australia, ‘Melanoma Of The Skin Statistics, 2016,

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