By Dr Timothy Hewitt

Types of skin cancer in Australia

Australia has the highest rate of skin cancers in the world, the most common types are:

  • Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
  • Melanoma

Non-melanoma skin cancers

Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are non-melanoma skin cancers. They are the most diagnosed cancer in Australia, five times more common than all other cancers combined.

By age 70, 78% of men and 58% of women in Australia will have been diagnosed with a non-melanoma skin cancer.

Basal cell carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. It can increase in size making its removal difficult and invade local structures.

They do not metastasize.

Book your health appointments online

Find and instantly book your next health appointment with Healthengine

Find health practitioners

Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma may also cause local problems and have a potential of metastatic spread (spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or lymphatic system).

Metastatic spread is uncommon and is dependent on the aggressiveness (grade) of the tumour and its size.

Melanoma skin cancers

Melanoma skin cancers have a potential of distant spread proportional to there thickness as measured on the pathology sample.

Topical treatments for skin cancer

Some skin cancers are suitable to treatment by topical methods. Thin skin cancers may be treated by:

  • Creams/ointments
  • Liquid nitrogen
  • Light treatment
  • And other modalities

Surgical treatments for skin cancer

Skin cancers that are not thin (superficial) require surgery. Melanoma is treated surgically.


Skin cancer resection involves removing the cancer and a margin of normal tissue to ensure clearance.

The margin of excision is determined by the type of tumour and is assessed by a Histopathologist who analyses the resection specimen microscopically. The pathology result takes up to one week to be available.

For melanoma the margin of excision is proportional to the thickness of the tumour as measured by the histopathologist and therefore an initial biopsy or narrow excision is performed to determine how much tissue is required for a second definitve resection.

Moh’s surgery

Moh’s surgery is a technique by which tumours of indistinct margins are resected sequentially and undergo simultaneous pathological analysis.

Once the tumour has been removed the resulting defect may be able to be sewn closed (direct closure).

Skin graft

In areas where there is a deficiency of skin, such as the lower leg, or in an area where this may distort local structures, such as the nose, other techniques are used to cover the defect. A skin graft or a flap can be used.

A skin graft is skin taken from another area and used to fill a defect. A flap refers to composite tissue (skin and the underlying tissue) that is moved into a defect.

A skin graft enables an area of tissue loss to be covered, a graft uses tissue of similar colour and thickness to reconstruct a defect.

Surgical options for scarring

Skin excisions will always leave a scar. If a scar can be placed in a favourable location (such as in an existing skin fold) and closure is without tension scars often very good.

Plastic surgeons specialise in techniques to minimalise scarring. Scars improve postoperatively for up to one year.



A: Use HealthEngine to find and book your next Skin Cancer Physician appointment. Click on the following locations to find a Skin Cancer Physician clinic in your state or territory.


This article is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. If in doubt, HealthEngine recommends consulting with a registered health practitioner.

All content and media on the HealthEngine Blog is created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. Never disregard the advice of a medical professional, or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Website. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor, go to the nearest hospital emergency department, or call the emergency services immediately.