Skin Cancer

Head and neck

About head and neck skin cancer

There are three main types of skin cancer:

  • Basal Cell Carcinoma
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma
  • Melanoma

Basal cell carcinomas are the most common and the least serious form of skin cancer – as long as they are treated. Basal cell carcinomas occur when a mutation develops in one of your skin's basal cells. Basal cells are found at the bottom of the epidermis –the outermost layer of your skin. Basal cells produce new skin cells as old ones near the surface die off.

Squamous cell carcinomas appear as a raised, crusty, non-healing sore, often found on hands, forearms, ears, face or neck of people who have spent a lot of time outdoors. They are common in people over the age of 40 years old and can be life-threatening if left untreated.

Melanoma is a type of cancer that begins in your skin's pigment cells, known as melanocytes. Melanocytes produce a brown-coloured pigment called melanin. This gives skin its colour. When melanocyte cells group together in the skin they can form a mole. Most moles are safe. However, sometimes the melanocytes in them begin to grow and divide in an uncontrolled way and form a melanoma. Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer and it can spread quickly. It is treatable if it is caught early, but if the cancer spreads to other parts of your body, it can be life-threatening.

How do we treat skin cancer?

Surgery is the primary treatment for most skin cancers. For patients with basal cell or squamous cell carcinomas, we can operate using a local anaesthetic. In these procedures, like with most skin cancer surgeries, the cancer cells are removed, along with a small amount of surrounding skin, known as the margin.

For skin cancers that have not spread, surgery may be performed to remove the entire cancer, and no other treatment may be needed. More aggressive skin cancers such as melanoma may require more extensive surgeries. If nearby lymph nodes are enlarged and the doctor suspects cancer cells may have spread, he or she may want to remove the lymph nodes.