Melbourne Plastic Surgery Blog

Melbourne Plastic Surgery Blog

Your skin cancer questions

Thursday, April 17, 2014

With summer over and many of us feeling just a teeny bit guilty about time spent in the sun (even with our sunscreen and cover ups) now is the perfect time to take stock of your skin and moles and get them checked.  Since its introduction MoleMap at Brighton Plastic Surgery has provided patients full body peace of mind when it comes to their skin and any areas of concern. 

We've collated a few of the most popular skin cancer questions patients raise and asked plastic surgeon Dr Ramin Shayan to share some insights:

  •  What’s the difference between a BCC and an SCC?

Firstly not all types of cancer are the same. BCC and SCC are the main category of skin cancers known as non-melanoma skin cancers (NMSCs).

A Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) is a growth within the basal cells of the skin, that give rise to the new skin cells that renew our skin as part of normal life. In this process, mature skin cells (keratinocytes) shed off the surface and are replaced by younger fresher cells beneath, that start as the basal layer. This type of skin cancer is essentially not able to spread  (a small group that do spread have been described as having <0.05% chance of spreading!!), however it does keep growing larger in the local area. Depending on the type of BCC, it may keep burrowing deeper. 

A Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is also an uncontrolled growth of skin cells, but this occurs in more mature layers of the skin. Depending on the type, these cancers may also spread if neglected, but is unlikely to do so if excised in a relatively timely fashion.

  • Why did my doctor say it was OK to wait a few months to have surgery – isn't it a cancer? 

The answer is that 'cancers ain't cancers'. That means, that just the word cancer is not a death-sentence. A cancer is simply a growth of cells that has lost the normal ability of the body's cells to sense when there is something wrong, and to switch it off. There are many different types of cancer, originating in many different organs. Whilst some cancers do carry a poor survival rate, generally, the non-melanoma skin cancers (NMSCs) - BCC and SCC are among the better types of cancer to have if caught early. If a BCC or SCC is in the early stages, it is best to treat them in the early stages however there is no additional consequence if we treat these within 30 or so days.

  •  Are all skin cancers melanomas? And if my skin cancer is not a dangerous one - why bother to get it removed?

No, in fact most are not. BCCs and SCCs make up the vast majority of skin cancers in Australia however some melanomas may masquerade as BCCs or SCCs so it is important to get the specimen sent to a pathologist once it has been removed. If it does turn out to be a melanoma, there is a range of different treatment steps that must be undertaken, depending on the depth and other characteristics of the melanoma.

  •  Do skin cancers run in the family or is it because of the sun?

A good question - there is a lot we are yet to find out about the genetics of cancer.

Whilst there are some familial cancers, most skin cancers are due to exposure to the sun. Of course fair skinned people are more susceptible to sun damage and certainly one does inherit their skin type from their ancestors.  If there is a family history of skin cancer it is crucial to discuss this with your doctor.  

If you have any specific questions about skin cancer or would like to find out more about MoleMap - phone us on 03 9592 0522.
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