Due to a combination of tropical and sub-tropical sun and a high proportion of fair-skinned population, Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world. In comparison to other cancer, skin cancer is the most expensive for the community, and accounts for 80% of all newly diagnosed cancers.
Taking the proper safety precautions before sun exposure is extremely important, especially if you live in an area that gets a lot of sun year round. Studies have shown that about 2 in 3 Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70. There are several common types of skin cancers; malignant melanoma is the most dangerous and is most common in people between 15 and 44 years of age. Instances of malignant melanoma have been steadily rising in recent years. However, the majority of skin cancers are non-melanoma, which are less dangerous than malignant melanoma, but still need to be evaluated and treated by an experienced doctor.
A range of doctors in Australia treat skin cancers. As a plastic surgeon, Dr. Merten is an expert in surgical treatments of complex or large skin cancers, or ones that occur in cosmetically sensitive areas, such as the face. Skin cancers can be treated by a number of methods, depending on the type of cancer, its stage of growth, and its location on your body. These range from “topical” treatments such as creams, “scraping” techniques, through to full surgical removal and reconstructive surgery.
Most skin cancers are best removed surgically, and if on the face or other difficult areas, such as the lower legs, by a plastic surgeon, as more complex surgery may be required. If the cancer is small, simple excision (surgical removal, with stitches) is usually a relatively minor procedure, and is often done quickly and easily in an outpatient facility or Dr. Merten’s rooms, using local anesthesia. This usually leaves a thin, barely visible scar. The cancer will be sent for checking by a pathologist to ensure it has been completely removed. Risks of the surgery are low.
Dr. Merten offers several surgical treatment options for skin cancer that aim to get rid of the abnormalities using the most advanced techniques. Some of the surgical options may entail relocating the surrounding skin of the cancer after it has been removed (skin “flap”) or using skin from other body areas to cover the treated area (skin “graft”). Even complex skin cancers such as those that appear on the face can be successfully removed with very subtle scarring and the best possible cosmetic result.
Types Of Skin Cancer
There are three main types of skin cancer:
There are also a number of pre-cancerous skin growths, such as solar keratosis, which require treatment before they develop into skin cancers.
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
BCC is extremely common in Australia, and is the most common type of skin cancer. It occurs mostly in areas of long-term sun exposure, particularly on the face, head, neck and trunk regions, but can occur anywhere on the body. BCCs tend to grow slowly, over months to years, and rarely spread. They can usually be cured with surgery, leaving excellent cosmetic results. There are several different types of BCCs, which require different types of treatments. They most commonly present as a firm red or red-greyish lump, which may bleed from time to time.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
SCC is the next most common form of skin cancer, and typically grows faster than BCC and are often seen in older people. They are more serious, and have the potential to spread elsewhere in the body. SCCs usually present as a scaly, quickly growing pink lump, which may also break down, bleed and ulcerate. They mostly occur in sun-exposed areas, such as the face and backs of the hands. Surgical treatment will usually be curative if diagnosed in its early stages. Early diagnosis and treatment is essential.
Malignant Melanoma (MM)
Australia has the misfortune to have the highest rate of melanoma in the world. Excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, melanoma is the fourth most common cancer in both women and men in Australia. Although it is the least common skin cancer, it is the most dangerous.
Melanoma mostly occurs on sun exposed skin, but can occur on skin that is generally covered, and rarely in areas that have never been sun exposed. Melanoma may develop from an existing mole or appear as a new brown, red or black spot which changes and grows in size. Fortunately, if diagnosed early, most melanomas can be cured with surgical treatment alone. The five-year relative survival rate for melanoma is 90% for Australian men and 95% for Australian women.
Solar Keratoses or Actinic Keratoses
Solar keratoses, also referred to as actinic keratoses or “sunspots,” occurs from excess sun exposure, causing the skin to develop red, crusty patches. This condition commonly occurs on the face, neck, hands, forearms and ears. To prevent solar keratoses from becoming worse, it is recommend to stay out of the sun as much as possible, always wear sunscreen when going outside, and try to wear clothing that can protect your skin from harmful sun rays.
Early Detection of Skin Cancer
If you think you may have symptoms of skin cancer, it is important to seek medical attention immediately to avoid any future health risks. Dr. Merten can discuss how to best prevent skin cancer by examining the condition of your skin. Some of the symptoms he says to look out for are:
- Persistent red, pale, or pearly areas / lumps on the skin
- Change in size, shape, or color of moles
- A spot which periodically bleeds and then heals
- New moles or freckles that change in appearance over time or bleed
- Crusty, scaly, non-healing sores
If you experience any of these symptoms, your doctor can perform a biopsy on the area to determine the issue at hand.
Please contact our practice for more information on skin cancer, or to schedule a consultation with Dr. Merten.