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Skin Cancer

The common types of skin cancer explained

The common types of skin cancer explained

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK, and is broken down into two main types, melanoma skin cancer and non-melanoma skin cancer. According to Cancer Research, there are over 410 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer and 44 cases of melanoma skin cancer diagnosed every day in the UK. But what are these different types of skin cancer and how can they be identified?

Non-melanoma skin cancer

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) are the two main types of non-melanoma skin cancer. Non-melanoma skin cancer refers to a group of cancers that slowly develop in the upper layers of the skin and are the most common forms, accounting for around 90% of all skin cancers. These are identified by a lump or discoloured patch on the skin.

Basal Cell Carcinomas

Basal cell carcinomas form in the cells which line the epidermis and account for around 75-80% of all skin cancers. The main cause of BCCs are exposure to ultraviolet light from either sunlight or artificial light as found in tanning beds. This form of skin cancer can be treated effectively as it is very unlikely to spread to other areas of the body, but it is still vital that it is diagnosed and treated as early as possible. Basal cell carcinomas can appear anywhere on the body but are most commonly found in areas which are exposed to sunlight such as the face, head, neck and ears. This form of cancer appears in several variations, but the most common take the form of red, scaly plaques or shiny, pink or pearly nodules. In most cases the lump will slowly get bigger and may become crusty or bleed.

Squamous cell carcinomas

Squamous cell carcinomas are less common forms of non-melanoma skin cancer and are also caused by exposure to ultraviolet light. Most of these can be cured, however in some cases they can spread to other areas of the body, particularly the lymph nodes so it is important to see a Consultant Dermatologist if you have any concerns over an area of your skin. These appear most commonly as a firm, raised lump which has a red inflamed base and a rough, crusted surface. They can bleed and feel sore to the touch.

Melanoma skin cancer

Melanoma is less common, accounting for only around 3% of all skin cancers but can be more serious and aggressive as it can spread to other organs in the body. The most common sign of melanoma skin cancer is changing moles, and it develops when the melanocyte cells (the cells which produce brown pigment and moles), grow at a quicker rate than usual. It is really important to check your moles and monitor your skin for any changes. The main things to look out for when checking your moles are referred to as ABCDE’s. If you notice any of the following it is important to get your mole checked by a doctor:

A – Asymmetry: one half of the mole doesn’t match the other half
B – Borders: the mole has uneven borders
C – Colour: there is a variety of colours in the mole (different shades of brown, tan or black)
D – Diameter: the mole grows in size to larger than a pencil eraser (¼ inch)
E – Evolution: the mole evolves in some way, either size, shape, colour, elevation or a new characteristic appears

If you are worried about a mole or any other area of your skin which resembles any of the conditions outlined, please book a consultation to have your skin checked by a consultant dermatologist. The sooner a skin cancer is detected, the better the long term outcomes.

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