Understanding Cancer

Skin Cancer

Most skin cancers come from over-exposure to UV light. This is usually from sun exposure, but can also be UV light from man-made sources, like tanning beds.

What to expect before, during, and after radiotherapy treatment:

Explore The Patient Pathway

The most common type of skin cancers are slow growing, but if untreated they can invade bone or other areas under the skin.

Cancers that develop from the pigment-making cells of your skin are called melanomas. They are fast growing and aggressive, and they show up first as a mole or freckle that has changed shape or colour. Melanoma is the fourth most common cancer in New Zealand.

In more detail

The most common types of skin cancers are keratinocyte carcinomas or keratinocyte cancers. They are called this because the cells resemble keratinocytes, the most common cell found in normal skin. Most keratinocyte cancers are either basal cell carcinomas or squamous cell carcinomas.

Basal cell carcinomas make up 80% of all skin cancers, and usually develop on sun-exposed areas, especially the head and neck. These cancers tend to grow slowly but without treatment can grow into nearby areas, like bone or other tissues beneath the skin. After treatment, basal cell carcinoma can often reappear in the same place.

About 20% of skin cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. These cancers commonly appear on the face, ears, neck, lips, and backs of the hands. They can also develop in scars or chronic skin sores. They tend to grow and spread more than basal cell cancers, invading fatty tissues beneath the skin, lymph nodes and sometimes other parts of the body.

Keratoacanthomas are dome-shaped tumours that are found on sun-exposed skin. Many shrink or even go away without any treatment. But some continue to grow, and a few may even spread to other parts of the body. Less common types of skin cancer account for less than 1% of non-melanoma skin cancers, including merkel cell carcinoma, kaposi sarcoma and cutaneous lymphoma.

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The Patient Pathway

First Specialist Appointment

At the first specialist appointment you will meet with your specialist radiation oncologist (RO) to discuss the proposed radiotherapy treatment approach and answer any questions and concerns you may have.


At the treatment planning appointment a patient care specialist (nurse or radiation therapist) will explain the procedures in more detail and answer any concerns that you might have about ARO or your treatment.


During the days following your orientation and treatment planning appointment our team of experts (physicists, radiation therapist planners and your radiation oncologist) work together to develop the ideal treatment plan for you. This involves a highly sophisticated planning software system and review process to guarantee safe and effective delivery of treatment. Depending on the site and complexity of the treatment, this stage can take up to two weeks.

First Day of Treatment

You’ll need to arrive 10-15 minutes before your allocated treatment time so that we can greet you and to give you time to get changed for your treatment.

If you are driving, we recommend you enter Gate 3, 98 Mountain Road and drive up the ramp to the mid level car park. Please walk across the link bridge to Auckland Radiation Oncology (ARO). Please report to the ARO reception desk. See location and parking for more information.

During Treatment

Weekly reviews with your radiation oncologist or one of our patient care team will be conducted to monitor any side effects and provide on-going support and advice as required.

Last Week of Treatment

An appointment will be scheduled for you to meet with a member of our patient care team to ensure appropriate care is organised after your last treatment visit. This may include regular monitoring of blood results, appointments for dressings and management of side effects.

Following Treatment