What do we mean by 'Skin Cancer'? Skin Cancer can be found on any part of the body. It is the most common cancer diagnosed in Australia. Skin Cancers are either Melanoma or Non-Melanoma Skin Cancers (NMSC). Our focus is Skin Cancer on the head and neck, especially the face, nose and lip. Information about other types of Head and Neck Cancers can be found here.

All the information in this section is available in a PDF.
Download it here.

1. Symptoms and signs of Skin Cancer

The signs and symptoms of Skin Cancer depend on where the cancer is, type of cancer, its size and how far it has spread in the body. 

There are a number of symptoms that may indicate Skin Cancer. Common signs and symptoms may include:

  • crusty, non-healing sores (or ulcers)

  • small persistent lumps (these can be red, pale or pearly)

  • new spots, freckles or lumps

  • moles that change in thickness, colour or shape over a period of weeks to months.

Check the parts of your skin that get exposed to sunlight (e.g. face, back and neck) for any changes. If you notice any changes or have any of the symptoms speak to your doctor.

2. Tests for Skin Cancer

It is important that your doctor establishes the diagnosis and type of Skin Cancer, assesses the extent of the cancer and whether it has spread to the lymph nodes.

To answer these questions your doctor will need to do the following things:

  • talk with you about changes to your skin/mole (if any) and discuss other health conditions and medications you are taking (called a medical history)

  • use an instrument (dermatoscope) to view the mole clearly

  • order some tests

The most common test for Skin Cancer is a biopsy.


​A biopsy involves removing a small piece (sample) from the cancer. The sample is then examined under a microscope to check for cancer cells. This is often the only sure way to tell if you have cancer.

Your doctor may recommend: 

  • Excision biopsy: to remove the cancer completely with a narrow margin; or if the cancer is large. This may be done in the clinic or in the operating room under general anaesthesia

  • Incision biopsy: this is when a doctor removes a small amount of tissue from the affected area using a surgical knife. These are commonly done in the doctor’s office

For both types of biopsy, your doctor will inject the area with an anaesthetic so that you don’t feel any pain. Depending on the size and location of the biopsy, you may need stitches. There may be some bleeding after the biopsy. If you take blood thinners you may need to stop these before the biopsy.

If the physical examination or other procedures suggest that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, your doctor may order a:

  • Needle biopsy (also called Fine Needle Aspiration of FNA): This is used when there is a lump (enlarged lymph node) in your neck that could have cancer cells in it. This is done by a radiologist or pathologist using an ultrasound to see that the needle is in the right spot. You may feel a bit uncomfortable during the biopsy.

  • Core biopsy: This is used to get more tissue in the biopsy. This is called a core biopsy. It can provide more information than needle biopsy but can be more uncomfortable. Your doctor will decide the type of biopsy that is most appropriate for you.

All the information in this section is available in a PDF.
Download it here.
  • What is Skin Cancer?
  • What is skin?
  • What does the skin do?
  • What causes Skin Cancer?
2. Symptoms, signs and tests of Skin Cancer
  • Signs and Symptoms of Skin Cancer
  • Tests for Skin Cancer
3. Treatment for Skin Cancer
  • Treatment options for Skin Cancer
  • Surgery 
  • Radiation Therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  1. Head and Neck Cancer Australia Resources 
  2. External Links to other Head and Neck Cancer Resources