What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer occurs when skin cells are damaged, for example, by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.

There are three main types of skin cancer:

Both basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are known as non-melanoma skin cancer.

Approximately, two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70, with more than 750,000 people treated for one or more non-melanoma skin cancers in Australia each year. Non-melanoma skin cancer is more common in men, with almost double the incidence compared to women.

Excluding non-melanoma skin cancer,* melanoma is the third most common cancer in Australians. In 2013, 12,744 Australians were diagnosed with melanoma.

Every year, in Australia:

  • skin cancers account for around 80% of all newly diagnosed cancers
  • the majority of skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun
  • GPs have over 1 million patient consultations per year for skin cancer
  • the incidence of skin cancer is one of the highest in the world, two to three times the rates in Canada, the US and the UK.

In 2014, 2067 people died from skin cancer in Australia, 1467 from melanoma and 600 from non-melanoma skin cancers.

The five-year relative survival rate for melanoma is 88% for men and 93% for women in  Australia.

The five-year relative survival rate for non-melanoma skin cancer is 68% for men and 74% for women in Australia.

*Non-melanoma skin cancers are not notified to cancer registries.