Skin Cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the UK

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There are 3 main types of skin cancer:

  • Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC or sometimes called rodent ulcer)- accounts for 75% of skin cancers
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)- makes up 20% of skin cancers
  • Melanoma- represents 4% of skin cancers

More information on BCCs and SCCs can be found here

These cancers rarely spread so there is little risk to life. However, anyone showing signs of these cancers should always see their doctor. They are usually treated by surgery or radiotherapy. Melanomas are potentially much more serious as most of them can spread to other parts of the body and can therefore threaten life. However if detected early they can be treated successfully and 98% of patients diagnosed with Stage 1 melanoma will survive 5 years. We are focusing on melanomas on this page.

Risks and Prevention

Although half of melanomas occur in people over 65, they can occur from adolescence onwards. They are getting commoner each year, possibly due to taking holidays in sunnier climes. Most melanomas will occur on skin exposed to sunlight but can occur on other parts of the body.

The biggest risk factor is UV radiation from sunlight and sun-beds. Some will arise in skin damaged by sunburn in early life.

The risk is also increased if you have:

  • A large number of moles (over 50) or a lot of freckles.
  • Pale skin.
  • Red or blonde hair.
  • Blue eyes.
  • A close relative who has had melanoma.
  • Had a melanoma previously.
  • Any condition, or you are taking a drug, that suppresses your immune system.

To reduce your risk of melanoma:

  • Avoid over-exposure to the sun.
  • Know your skin type (see below).
  • Protect your skin with clothes, a hat and sunglasses, particularly between 11am and 3pm on a sunny day.
  • Use a sunscreen of at least SPF30 and re-apply regularly, but remember no sunscreen will provide 100% protection.

Comprehensive information and advice about your skin type and sun awareness from the British Association of Dermatologists can be found here

 

Symptoms

About 50% of melanomas arise from an existing mole, but the rest appear as a new mole or skin change.

See your GP if you have a mole that is:

  • Increasing in size
  • Changing shape, particularly if the edge of the mole becomes irregular
  • Changing colour, maybe with a mixture of colours
  • Itching, causing pain or bleeding
  • Becoming inflamed or crusted

These symptoms can be summarised visually by using the ABCDE tool.

 

Screening

There is no national screening programme for melanoma. This is because it is not very common, and screening would mean a lot of unnecessary checks. The cost of running a screening programme would, at present, outweigh the benefits. It is therefore really important to be aware of signs and symptoms, and go and see your doctor if you have any concerns.

 

Support and Information

For more information on skin cancer, here’s some useful sites:

Cancer research UK

Macmillan

British Association of Dermatologists

Melanoma UK

Finally, be careful of the sun and avoid sun-beds.

Keep an eye on your skin, particularly if you have a lot of moles.

See your GP if you have a mole that is changing. You will not be wasting their time.