If you notice any new lesions appearing on your skin, or any changes to existing moles, freckles, or lesions, please make an appointment to see a dermatologist. Skin cancer is much easier to treat in its early stages, & the treatment procedures are less invasive the earlier you are diagnosed, so don’t hesitate to get checked out.
The main cause of non-melanoma skin cancer is UV light from the sun, or from tanning beds & sunlamps, but risk factors include fair skin & a high mole count.
Skin cancer is usually treated with surgery, particularly if it is caught in the early stages. The mole or lesion will be removed, as well as some of the healthy surrounding tissue, to prevent recurrence. If the skin cancer is more advanced, oral medications may also be prescribed to prevent it from spreading.
Skin cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK. Skin cancer occurs when abnormal cells begin to grow uncontrollably, usually as a result of DNA damage (usually due to ultraviolet radiation in sunshine or tanning beds) that the body hasn’t been able to repair, & which subsequently triggers mutations. There are two types of skin cancer, melanoma & non-melanoma.
Non-melanoma skin cancer
Non-melanoma skin cancer is a group of cancers that spread & develop in the upper layers of the skin. The symptoms of non-melanoma skin cancer usually begin with a patch of discoloration or a lump appearing on the skin which doesn’t heal, & which slowly grows over a period of months or years. Non-melanoma lesions are either firm, red lumps, or flat, scaly patches. They can occur anywhere on the body, but tend to appear on areas of skin that have had more sun exposure (face, ears, chest, shoulders, back, & hands).
Types of non-melanoma skin cancer:
Basal cell carcinomas (BCC) account for about 75% of all non-melanoma skin cancers, & squamous cell carcinomas for about 20%. The initial symptoms of a basal cell carcinoma are a small lump that can be either pink or white, shiny, pearly, & waxy or translucent. It may also just look like a scaly patch of skin with some discoloration (red, black or brown). As it develops, the lump gets bigger. It may become crusty, bleed, or remain painless & closed.
Squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) have similar symptoms, with a small, firm, pink lump that has a rough or crusty surface, & which may form a spiky top like a horn. These usually feel tender & bleed easily. Bowen’s disease is a precancerous kind of SCC that develops slowly, beginning as a scaly red patch, usually on the lower leg.
Actinic keratoses are not cancerous, but can sometimes develop into SCCs. They are patches of skin that are dry & scaly, pink, red or brown in colour, & sometimes have a thickened or spiky surface. This is caused by sun damage.
Melanoma skin cancer
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that begins in the skin but can spread to other organs. It is less common than non-melanoma skin cancer. It usually begins as a new mole or a change to an existing mole, & is most frequently found on the back or the legs. The symptoms are a mole with an irregular shape & more than one colour. It may be itchy or bleed.