Although we have been exposed to the Slip Slop Slap message for over 30 years, the statistics on Melanoma (a type of skin cancer) rates in Australia are still shocking.

 “Melanoma is known as Australia’s national cancer and currently we have the 2nd highest incidence of melanoma in the world; a cancer which sadly still kills one Australian every five hours,” says Melanoma Institute Australia CEO Carole Renouf. It’s important for Australians to know more about and understand the different types of melanoma and know what to watch out for.

“Sun exposure, without doubt, plays a major role in the development of non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancer.” Says Dr Annika Smith, Fellow of the Australasian College of Dermatologists and consultant dermatologist.

“Minimising UV exposure is key to minimising skin cancer risk; with appropriate use of sunscreen, broad spectrum SPF 50, appropriate hat wear (broad brimmed), sun protective clothing and eye wear, avoiding UV exposure during the peak periods of the day and seeking shade where possible. The full complement of sun protective armamentarium is required, as a combined approach has the most impact on reducing sun exposure and thereby skin cancer risk.”

Interestingly, melanoma can occur anywhere on the skin, even in areas that receive little or no sun exposure e.g. inside the mouth or on the soles of your feet. And if left untreated, it can spread to the lower part of your skin (dermis), enter the lymphatic system or bloodstream and then spread to other parts of the body e.g. lungs, liver, brain or bone. The melanoma gets its name because it is a form of cancer that develops in the skin’s pigment cells (melanocytes)¹.


There are different types of melanoma and your specialist using a pathology report will help identify one of the following:

Superficial spreading melanoma
Making up more than 50% of all melanomas diagnosed, this is the most common type of melanoma and usually appears as a dark spot with irregular borders that spreads across the skins².

Nodular melanoma
Making up about 15% of all melanomas, this is one of the most fast growing types of melanoma. It appears as a raised lump or ‘nodule’ and can be brown, black, pink or red in colouring, or have no colour at all²

Lentigo maligna melanoma
Making up 10% of all melanomas, these begin as large freckles and are commonly found in older people; and often in areas such as the face, head, neck and upper body, that have receive lots of sun exposure²

Acral lentiginous melanoma
Making up about 3% of all melanomas, this is a rarer type of melanoma that tends to grow on the palms of hands, soles of the feet or under the nails.

Some other less common types of melanoma include desmoplastic and naevoid melanoma. Mucosal melanomas (found in tissues in the respiratory, digestive, and reproductive tracts), and Uveal melanomas develop in the eye²

“Prevention and early detection is key”, says Ms Renouf. Look out for any unusual new mole on your skin or an old mole that’s started changing and check with your doctor right away, because an early diagnosis makes a big difference in your outcome. For more information to find out what to look for and how to do a self-examination check out Melanoma Institute Australia website. 

Of course part of good prevention habits means covering up and using a quality sunscreen. Understand how much sunscreen you need to use and how to apply and reapply your sunscreen.