More than 15,900 new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the UK every year.
Skin cancer is the 5th most common cancer in the UK, affecting twice as many men as women. Skin cancer can affect anyone and we should all be taking precautions to protect our skin. However, certain characteristics can increase your chances of developing skin cancer:
- Lots of moles or freckles
- Fair skin that burns easily
- Red or fair hair
- Family history of skin cancer
Skin Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells, which occurs when DNA damage triggers mutations or genetic defects in the skin cells. These defects then cause the skin cells to multiply and form tumours.
Non-Melanoma and Melanoma.
Nonmelanoma skin cancer refers to all the types of cancer that develop slowly in the upper layer of the skin. There are several different types of non melanoma skin cancer, the most common are basal cell skin cancer (BCC) and squamous cell skin cancers (SCC).
Basal cell skin cancer develops in the cells lining the bottom of the epidermis and accounts for about 75% of skin cancers, whilst Squamous cell skin cancer starts within the cell linings of the top layer of the epidermis, accounting for 20% of skin cancers.
The risk of death from Non-melanoma is less than 95%, but if left untreated can result in further problems.
Melanoma is a more serious type of skin cancer which can spread to other organs within the body. If treated in the early stages there is a 98% chance that you will survive, however if the disease reaches the the lymph nodes the rate falls to 64%, decreasing further if the disease spreads to other distant organs.
Skin cancer symptoms vary person to person and include:
- Spots or sores that do not heal within 4 weeks, look red or dark, are itchy crusty or sore, and bleed or scab over
- Ulcers which do not heal within 4 weeks
- Lumps which are small, slow growing, shiny and pink or red
- Red patches on your skin which may also be itchy
One way you can stay vigilant is by regularly checking your moles using the ABCDE method.
A - Asymmetry: Does the mole look uneven or misshapen?
B - Border: Is the edge of the mole blurred?
C - Colour: Is it a mix of shades, has it darkened since the last time you checked it?
D - Diameter: Is it bigger than 6mm?
E - Enlargment: Has it changed in shape or become raised above the skin's surface?
Skin cancer is caused by exposure to harmful UVA & UVB rays, which damage the DNA in skin cells.
Artificial sources of UV light, such as sunbeds, can also increase your risk of skin cancer. Whether it's a sunbed or the real thing, the more damage that occurs over time, the more likely skin cancer is to develop.
If you suspect you might have skin cancer, or are worried about some symptoms, please book an appointment with your GP.
The most common way to identify skin cancer is through a biopsy of the area, which means a sample of the skin is taken away and examined for signs of cancer under a microscope. A biopsy is usually taken under general anaesthetic, but this depends on the size and location of the area.
Your doctor with consult with a team of professionals to determine the best course of action for treatment. How you are treated can depend on several factors:
- Where the cancer is
- The type of skin cancer that is present
- How the far the cancer has grown or spread
- The stage of the cancer