Skin cancer is the most common kind of cancer in Australia, and Australians have the highest rate of skin cancer in the world. Regular skin checks by a qualified medical professional can ensure that you find where you stand health-wise.
The usual process to diagnose skin cancer can be divided into 4 main steps:
Here are a few actions you and your doctor can take to determine if you have skin cancer:
To begin the examination process, your doctor will look for any changes, scanning the surface of your skin and keeping an eye out for anything suspicious at all.
A specialised magnifier, called a dermatoscope, is used to look at particular spots more closely.
If your doctor encounters a spot that looks suspicious, a biopsy will be taken for further testing. This may involve an excision or a shave, which is sent to the laboratory to determine whether it is cancerous or not.
If the test reveals that you do have skin cancer, additional tests will be carried out to show what stage the cancer is. If the growth consists of basal cell carcinoma, the biopsy is enough to determine the stage. However, when it comes to large squamous cell carcinoma, Merkel cell carcinoma or melanoma, there is a chance that the cancer may have spread and further tests will be required.
Your doctor will guide you throughout the whole process. They will explain what the diagnosis is and what kind of treatment or follow up is required.
Treatment options vary according to type, depth and location of the skin cancer. Small skin cancers that only affect the surface of the skin may be treated through excision, removing all the growth.
Depending on where the cancer is, you may be referred to a dermatologist or plastic surgeon for an optimal cosmetic outcome. We routinely refer to Dr Roger Down, based at our sister practice, Manly Village Medical, for specialised skin excisions, such as grafts or flaps.
However, if needed, there are other treatment options such as:
Doctors may tackle small, early-stage skin cancers by freezing the patches using liquid nitrogen and then removing the affected area, known as cryosurgery. Another method of surgery is known as excisional surgery, where the doctor cuts out cancer along with some healthy tissue surrounding it. More skin may be removed if necessary.
Curettage and Electrodesiccation or Cryotherapy
After removing most of the growth through surgery, some abnormal cells may still be left. A doctor will use a curette, which is a circular blade, to scrap away the cells. An electric needle destroys any remaining cancer cells. Another variation of this procedure is cryotherapy. Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze the base and edge of the treated area. The above method is used to tackle basal or squamous cell cancer.
Cancer cells are drugged to become sensitive to light. Then, a combination of laser and light is pointed at the area, killing off the cancer cells.
Some early cancers can be treated with biological therapy, which utilizes your own body’s immune system to fight cancer cells.
A special gel is applied to stimulate the body’s natural inflammatory response to attack the cancer.
Other treatments that can be performed by a Dermatoligst in a hospital setting are:
This treatment is only for more extensive or recurring skin cancers that are hard to treat, such as basal and squamous cell carcinomas. This treatment is done if a doctor wants to save as much skin as possible and involves a doctor removing skin growth layer by layer until no abnormal cells are present.
Radiation therapy is an option for any cancer that cannot be removed entirely by conventional surgery. A high-powered beam of energy is directed at the cancer cells, killing it.
This method utilizes drugs to kill cancer cells. Lotions are used if the cancer is only on the skin. Systemic chemotherapy is used if the cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body.
Baywest Medical Centre doctors have a lot of experience and training in diagnosing and treating skin cancer.