The ABCDE's of Skin Cancer


SYMMETRICAL: Benign (non-cancerous and non-malignant) moles are typically round.

ASYMMETRICAL: Melanoma (cancerous and malignant) lesions are typically irregular in shape. (Asymmetrical)


EVEN: Benign moles have smooth, even borders.

RAGGED OR NOTCHED EDGES: Melanoma lesions often have uneven borders.


SINGLE SHADE: Benign moles are usually a single shade of brown.

MANY SHADES: Melanoma lesions often contain many shades of brown or black


<6mm or 1/4”: Benign moles are usually less than 6 millimeters in diameter.

>6mm or 1/4”: Melanoma lesions are often more than 6 millimeters in diameter.


FLAT: Benign moles usually do not change size over time.

ELEVATED: Melanoma lesions often grow in size or change in height rapidly.

Skin self-examination - Checking one's own skin from head to toe for signs of melanoma, including changes in existing moles and the development of new moles. Self-examination is the most effective way to find melanoma in its early, most treatable stages.self-examination

 Causes and risk factors of melanoma

Melanoma and other skin cancers generally develop because of too much exposure to UV radiation. Each time unprotected skin is exposed to the sun's UV radiation or other sources of UV radiation, such as solariums, changes take place in the structure of the cells. Too much UV radiation causes the skin to become permanently damaged. The damage increases with each exposure. Repeated bouts of sunburn, particularly during childhood, greatly increase the chance of getting melanoma.

UNDERSTANDING SKIN CANCER    Solar Keratoses (Sunspots)

What are Sunspots?

Sunspots (solar keratoses, actinic keratoses) are premalignant skin lesions ie. may turn into skin cancer at a later time. They are caused by excessive long-term sun exposure. They are seen as relatively flat, scaly, and often red areas on sun-exposed skin. The sun exposure causing your sunspots may have occurred many years prior to their appearance. You don't need to have recent sun exposure to get sun spots!

Why do they need treatment?

While sunspots are not cancerous they can turn into skin cancer (squamous cell carcinoma). While the potential for a single sunspot to turn cancerous is low, the more you have the more likely you are to get skin cancer. Once skin cancer has arisen from a sunspot the lesion usually requires surgical excision.

How are they treated?

The treatment involves only superficial destructive procedures. The most common treatment is cryotherapy. This therapy involves liquid nitrogen freezing which results in destruction of the top layer of your skin - the epidermis. There are also some creams which are effective in removing sunspots.

What is a mole?

A mole, or naevus, is a benign (ie. harmless) skin spot that forms from nests of the pigment forming cells of the skin called melanocytes. While sun exposure can increase the number of moles on the skin, your genetic background (eg. family history of moles) is the main factor that determines how many moles you will get. About 30% of melanomas arise from moles. However, the chance of an individual mole turning into a melanoma is small.

What do moles look like?

Moles usually start their life as flat brown to black single coloured spots. These may slowly enlarge over time (years). As they raise they often lose their brown colour and become more lighter or more skin coloured. They are often regular in pattern and shape. Dysplastic moles are more irregular than the previously described "common" mole. However, they are also benign (harmless).

    What is a BCC?

BCC is the commonest cancer known to humans. They are formed from excessive sun exposure and are found on most skin sites exposed to the sun. They are usually pale to pink-red, flat or raised spots, that are usually less scaly than sunspots or squamous cell carcinoma. Less than 1 in 10 have some brown to blue colour within them. They can grow relatively quickly (obvious changes are usually seen within 12 months) but sometimes are slow growing. They may bleed after minor irritation. Later they may "break down" forming ulcers. While they virtually never spread to other organs of the body via the bloodstream (ie. they do not metastasise), they can cause massive destruction at their local site if ignored.

How are BCCs treated?

There are many different treatments for BCC. The commonest remains surgical excision (ie. cutting the tumour out). Other treatments include cryotherapy (liquid nitrogen freezing), laser therapy, curettage and cautery, Aldara (imiquimod) cream, photodynamic therapy and radiotherapy. The choice of treatment depends on the characteristics of the tumour, its site on the skin and the age of the patient.

What is a SCC?

Squamous cell carcinoma is the second commonest skin cancer. They are caused by excessive sun exposure and can occur on any site exposed to the sun. Many arise from pre-existing sunspots. They appear as relatively rapidly growing, scaly, flesh coloured to pale pink, raised spots. Later they may break down forming ulcers. They only spread to other organs in the body (metastasise) in about 2 out of 100 cases. However, on the lower lip, where they may look like a non-healing "sore", they can metastasise more frequently.

Courtesy of the Melanoma Diagnostic Centre







Supporting Melanoma and Skin Cancer