What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the skin.

Types of skin cancer

There are three main types of skin cancer:

BCC and SCC are sometimes called non-melanoma skin cancers. There are other rare skin cancers, such Merkel cell carcinoma, Kaposi sarcoma or T cell lymphoma of the skin, but these cancers are treated very differently from BCCs and SCCs. Call Cancer Council for more details.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)

BCC makes up about 70% of non-melanoma skin cancers.

  • It commonly develops on the head, neck and upper body.
  • It may appear as a pearly lump or a scaly, dry area that is pale or bright pink in colour and shiny.
  • BCC may bleed and become inflamed, and dead tissue may slough off (ulcerate). Some BCCs heal then break down again.

Often BCCs have no symptoms. They tend to grow slowly and don’t usually spread to other parts of the body. The earlier a BCC is found, the easier it will be to treat.

However, if a BCC is left untreated or grows larger than 5 cm, it may grow deeper into the skin and damage nearby tissue. This may make treatment more difficult and increase the chance of the BCC returning.

It is possible to have more than one BCC at the same time; having one increases your risk of getting another.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)

SCC accounts for about 30% of non-melanoma skin cancers.

  • SCC usually appears on parts of the body most often exposed to the sun, such as the head, neck, hands, forearms or lower legs.
  • It often appears as a thickened, red, scaly spot or as a rapidly growing lump.
  • SCC may look like a sore that hasn’t healed.
  • It may be tender to touch, and is sometimes mistaken for a skin sore (boil).

SCCs tend to grow quickly over several weeks or months. It is possible for SCCs to spread to other parts of the body if left untreated.

Bowen’s disease (also called squamous cell carcinoma in situ) looks like a red, scaly patch. It is an early form of skin cancer found in the outer layer of the skin (epidermis). If not treated, it can sometimes develop into a SCC.


Australia has the highest rates of melanoma in the world, with over 12,500 cases diagnosed in Australia in 2012. Melanoma is considered the most serious type of skin cancer.

  • It can often appear as an existing spot that changes size, shape or colour over several weeks or months, or which continues to grow.
  • Melanoma often has an irregular edge or surface, and it may be more than one colour such as brown, black, blue, red, white or light grey. Rarely, melanomas are just one colour, such as black or red.

Left untreated, a melanoma may spread deeper into the skin where cancer cells can escape and be carried in lymph or blood vessels to other parts of the body. The earlier melanoma is diagnosed, the better the chance of cure.

For a free booklet about how melanoma is diagnosed and treated, call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

Non cancerous skin spots

Not all spots that appear on your skin are cancerous. However, freckles, moles or sunspots are warning signs that your skin has had too much sun exposure and you may be at a greater risk of developing skin cancer.


A mole (naevus) is a normal growth on the skin. Moles (naevi) develop when the pigment-producing cells of the skin (melanocytes) grow in groups.

Moles are very common. Some people have many moles on their body – this can run in families. Overexposure to the sun, especially in childhood, can also lead to more moles growing on the skin.

Dysplastic naevi

Moles that have an irregular shape and an uneven colour are called dysplastic naevi. People with many dysplastic naevi are at greater risk of developing melanoma. If you have these moles, ask your doctor how to check your skin regularly for any changes and find new skin spots. If you notice any changes, see your doctor immediately.

Sunspots (solar keratoses)

Red, scaly spots on the skin that feel rough are called sunspots (solar keratoses). They usually occur in people aged over 40 on areas of skin frequently exposed to the sun, such as the head, neck, hands, forearms and legs. Rarely, solar keratoses may develop into SCC.

Skin spots comparison

This information was last reviewed in March 2014

This information has been reviewed by: Dr Richard Lewandowski, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon, Director of Surgery, Mater Adults Hospital, Brisbane; Prof H Peter Soyer, Chair, Dermatology Research Centre, The University of Queensland, School of Medicine, Acting Head, South-West Cluster & PA-Southside Clinical School, Deputy Head, School of Medicine, Director, Dermatology Department, Princess Alexandra Hospital; Dr Matheen Mohamed, Consultant Dermatologist,St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne; Margaret Whitton, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Department of Dermatology, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital; Irena Brozek, Research and Development Officer, Health Strategies, Cancer Council NSW; Julie Fraser, Consumer; Jenny Lawrence, Consumer; Carole Arbuckle, Helpline Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria.

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Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

Need more help? Visit: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4059


To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
Need more information? Visit: http://www.kobo.com/help/koboaura/response/?id=3784&type=3

Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

Need more help? Visit: https://au.readerstore.sony.com/apps_and_devices/

Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=help_search_1-1?ie=UTF8&nodeId=200767340&qid=1395967989&sr=1-1
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit www.amazon.com/manageyourkindle, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
Need more help? Visit https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200375630

Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.