Early Detection of Skin Cancer

Most skin cancer can be successfully treated if it is found early. But without treatment, skin cancer can be deadly. Get to know your skin and what looks normal for you to help you find changes earlier. Don't rely on an annual skin check to detect suspicious spots. Check all of your skin − not just sunexposed areas. If you notice any new spots or changes in the colour, size or shape of existing spots, see your general practitioner (GP) as soon as possible.


What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the skin. These abnormal cells usually form as a result of ultraviolet (UV) radiation damage.


There are three main types of skin cancer:

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)

This is the most common, least dangerous form of skin cancer. BCCs grow slowly, usually on the head, neck and upper torso. A BCC may:


Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)

These are less common than BCCs but may spread to other parts of the body if untreated. SCCs grow over some months and appear on skin most often exposed to the sun. An SCC may:



Melanoma may be life-threatening in as little as six weeks and, if left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma can also appear on skin not typically exposed to the sun, such as the inner thigh or underarm.


Use the ABCD rule as a guide while examining your skin:


Nodular melanoma is a fast growing and aggressive melanoma that does not follow the ABCD criteria above. It is often red, pink, brown or black and feels firm to touch. Nodular melanoma grows very quickly and needs to be treated as soon as possible.



Most skin cancers are found by people checking their own skin or are noticed by a loved one. Cancer Council recommends that all adults, particularly those aged 40 and over, should:


Photographs of any suspicious spots can be useful to record any changes over time. If you are worried about any skin changes, talk to your GP.


Who can diagnose and treat skin cancer?

Cancer Council recommends that you first visit a GP to assess your skin. Although suspicious spots should be treated appropriately, harmless spots should not be removed unnecessarily.



GPs an examine your skin and advise you of appropriate care. GPs are trained in diagnosing and treating skin cancers, which may include minor procedures.

If you are at higher risk of skin cancer, speak with your GP about developing a surveillance program, which may include regular skin checks.

Your GP can also refer you to a dermatologist.



Dermatologists are doctors who have completed additional training to specialise in diagnosing and treating skin diseases, including skin cancer.

To see a dermatologist you should get a referral from a GP. You can see a dermatologist without a GP referral but your Medicare rebate may be smaller.

Book your appointment as soon as you can. It may be some weeks before you can get an appointment. If your case is urgent, your GP should be able to arrange an early appointment. If you live in regional Victoria, there may not be a dermatologist in the area; however, many regional areas have visiting dermatologists. Your GP should be able to advise you.


Skin cancer clinics

There are many skin cancer clinics offering a variety of services and fee arrangements. General practitioners – not dermatologists – are more likely to operate skin cancer clinics. If you wish to see a dermatologist or get a second opinion, you may ask for a referral.

Cancer Council Victoria does not operate or endorse any skin check service providers or skin cancer clinics.


Questions to ask

Whoever you decide to see, here are some questions you should ask.

If you are told you have skin cancer, ask:


Ask how much each procedure will cost and how much you will get back through Medicare. If you are in a private health fund, check first if any of these procedures are covered by your plan.


More information and resources


Reference:  Early detection of skin cancer