Did you know that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, with the rates continuing to rise year after year? Over 100,000 new cases are now diagnosed each year, and melanoma, the most aggressive subtype kills over 2,500 people each year in the UK – that’s seven people every day. Additionally, there has been a 70% increase in Melanoma cases among 25-49 year olds. While there’s more awareness on preventing the disease, many people still aren’t sure of the signs and symptoms to look out for.
Cancer starts when cells in the body begin to grow out of control. Any cells in any part of the body can become cancerous, and can then spread to other areas of the body. When it comes to skin cancer, there are two main categories- melanoma and non-melanoma.
Understanding Skin Cancer
These two cancer types relate to the different cells in our skin. The top layer of our skin (the epidermis) is home to 3 main types of cells:
Squamous Cells – These are flat cells in the outer part of the epidermis that are constantly shed as new cells form.
Basal Cells – These cells are in the lower part of the epidermis, called the basal cell layer. These cells constantly divide to form new cells to replace the squamous cells that wear off the skin’s surface. As these cells move up in the epidermis, they get flatter, eventually becoming squamous cells.
Melanocytes – These are the cells that can become melanoma. They make a brown pigment called melanin, which gives the skin its tan or brown colour. Melanin protects the deeper layers of the skin from some of the harmful effects of the sun. For most people, when skin is exposed to the sun, melanocytes make more of the pigment, causing the skin to tan or darken.
Melanomas, also known as ‘malignant melanoma’ and is less common than non-melanoma cancers, but it’s also the most dangerous of the two. Skin cancers that are not melanomas are often grouped as non-melanoma skin cancers because they develop from skin cells other than melanocytes. They tend to behave very differently from melanomas and are often treated with different methods. Basal cell and squamous cell cancers are by far the most common skin cancers, and actually are more common than any other form of cancer. Because Basal cell carcinomas are slow growing and rarely spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body, they are often diagnosed late. Squamous cell carcinomas on the other hand can grow rapidly and can spread, hence the urgency for treatment.
Non-melanoma skin cancers are mainly made up of ‘Basal Cell Carcinoma’ (BCC) and ‘Squamous Cell Carcinoma’ (SCC). Skin cancers that are not melanomas are often grouped as non-melanoma skin cancers because they develop from skin cells other than melanocytes. They tend to behave very differently from melanomas and are often treated with different methods. Basal cell and squamous cell cancers are by far the most common skin cancers, and actually are more common than any other form of cancer. Because Basal cell carcinomas are slow growing and rarely spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body, they are often diagnosed late. Squamous cell carcinomas, on the other hand, can grow rapidly and can spread, hence the urgency for treatment.
Skin Cancer signs and symptoms
Basal and squamous cell skin cancers (non-melanoma) are much more common than melanoma. They usually appear on areas that get the most sun such as the face, neck and head, but they can show up anywhere on the body. The most obvious signs of Basal and squamous cell skin cancers and the things to look out for are:
- Flat, firm, pale or yellow areas, similar to a scar
- Raised reddish patches that might be itchy
- Small, pink or red, translucent, shiny, pearly bumps, which might have blue, brown, or black areas
- Pink growths with raised edges and a lower area in their centre, which might contain abnormal blood vessels spreading out like the spokes of a wheel
- Open sores (which may have oozing or crusted areas) that don’t heal, or that heal and then come back
- Rough or scaly red patches, which might crust or bleed
- Raised growths or lumps, sometimes with a lower area in the centre
- Wart-like growths
It’s important to note that skin cancer can affect everyone differently and the appearance of moles or the descriptions seen here can differ, other skin changes to keep an eye out for include:
- New spots or skin lesions
- Spots that differs in appearance to others on your body
- Any sore that doesn’t heal
- Redness or swelling beyond the border of a mole
- Itching, pain or tenderness of the skin
- Oozing, scaliness or bleeding on the skin
If you’re concerned about the appearance of anything on your skin, please contact us for a consultation where we can identify, diagnose and excise any suspicious moles, but most importantly, give you peace of mind from a dermatologist you can trust.
Know your risk of Skin Cancer
Most people know that getting sunburn increases the chances of getting skin cancer. But there are other things that increase your risk too, including if you:
- use a sun bed
- have fair hair and eyes, lots of freckles or pale skin that burns easily
- have lots of moles – more than 11 moles on your right arm means you’re
- likely to have more than 100 moles on your whole body
- have large moles bigger than 6mm
- have had a melanoma before, or if a close relative has had one
- are taking medicines that affect your immune system
For those who have only a few moles and low risk of melanoma (no personal or family history of melanoma, no history of sun-bed use or excessive sun exposure, dark skin) a self-skin examination once every few months would suffice.
On the other hand, patients who have the atypical naevus syndrome, previous history of skin cancer/s, strong family history of skin cancers, fair skin, suppressed immunity or history of excessive sun exposure, we recommend once monthly self-skin examination. Good quality digital pictures of the moles should be taken at baseline.
Checking your moles
Spotting the warning signs of skin cancer early can make it more easily treatable. The best way to identify skin cancers is to understand your moles on your body. Doctors advise that you check your skin carefully at home about once a month to identify any changes. A good way of self-checking your skin will be using the “ABCDE” rule to look for some of the common signs of skin cancer.
Checking your moles should be a high priority when checking your skin, as well as looking for any changes to your skin or the appearance of new markings. If you’re worried about the appearance of a mole but still unsure how to check it, take a look at our mole mapping service. We can perform a full body mole mapping service to give you peace of mind.
Diagnosing Skin Cancer
If you have any of the alarming signs, you should seek advice from your GP who can refer you to a dermatologist. Any suspicious mole should be examined by a dermatologist who would undertake a full-body skin examination and a dermatoscopic examination of the moles to look for signs of melanoma.
At Everything Skin Clinic™ our expert Dermatologists are trained to use these handheld illuminated magnifiers — dermatoscopes which highlight specific signs of melanoma which may not be apparent to the untrained eyes. We also undertake Mole mapping in our ‘Mole Map Clinic’ using then most sophisticated state of the art, ATBM, Fotofinder mole mapping machine.
Skin Cancer treatments
The first principle treatment of skin cancers is appropriate and early diagnosis as early diagnosis leads to early intervention and better prognosis. The type of treatment you have will depend on the type of skin cancer diagnosed. We offer fast-track appointments to ensure immediate diagnosis and treatment of skin cancers.
Mohs Micrographic Surgery is a treatment for some types of skin cancer- most often a type called basal cell carcinoma. This type of surgery is different from other forms of surgery in that it allows the immediate and complete microscope examination of the specimen. It is not possible for a surgeon to see the roots of a skin cancer under the skin surface without a microscope.
Mohs surgery gives the best chance of cure for non-melanoma skin cancers compared to all other treatments- even if the skin cancer has grown back following previous treatment. It is also very valuable for preserving normal skin around important sites such as the nose, lips, eyes or ears and keeping the wound as small as possible.
Why choose Everything Skin Clinic?
At Everything Skin Clinic™, we have a team of highly trained Consultant dermatologists, who have completed specialist training in Dermatology and are on the specialist register of the General Medical Council. All our consultants hold substantive contracts with the best Dermatology centres in leading NHS hospitals. Therefore, you can be certain of the highest quality private care.
We offer a range of treatments and can offer one, or a combination of treatments to achieve the best results. Unlike many other clinics, we can offer diagnosis and treatment all under one roof by expert consultant dermatologist, so you know you’ll be in safe hands.