Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer worldwide effecting 1 in 5 people. With early detection and appropriate treatment most skin cancers can be cured. This article outlines the different types of skin cancer and explains the signs that we should look out for.
Who is at risk of skin cancer and why?
Individuals most at risk of skin cancer have fair complexions, are unable to tan and may have a family history of skin cancer. However as we all should know, it is exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) which is the biggest environmental factor. There has been increased exposer to UVR in recent decades including the trend to travel to sunny climates, the fashion to appear tanned and the use of sunbeds.
How is sunlight harmful to skin?
Melanocytes are the pigment producing cells in the skin, hair and eyes that determine their colour. When skin is exposed to the sun’s UV rays, melanocytes produce more pigment causing the skin to tan, the body’s natural defence mechanism. However, over exposure means DNA within the cells becomes damaged, leading to cancerous cells.
What signs of skin cancer should I watch out for?
You should look for changes in moles or for new moles. The ABCD guide is helpful and stands for:
Border becoming irregular
Colour changes especially uneven colour
Diameter of greater than 6mm
Typically, a melanoma appears as a new lesion, you must look for moles which appear different to other moles on your body, and moles which become itchy or bleed.
Basal cell carcinoma may appear as a pinkish nodule, a red scaly patch or an ulcer. They are prone to bleeding. Squamous cell carcinoma often appears as a scaly or crusty area of skin or lump, with a red, inflamed base. They may be tender and bleed when rubbed.
As we age, we develop scaly rough patches called actinic keratoses predominantly in sun-exposed areas (e.g. face and forearms). These occasionally develop into squamous cell carcinoma and so can be considered pre-cancerous.
Images of typical actinic keratoses
Fortunately most skin lesions are harmless, such as seborrhoeic keratosis, which can be mistaken for actinic keratoses (above). Seborrhoeic keratosis can mimic skin cancer and so not infrequently are a cause of concern.
Images of typical seborrhoeic keratoses
It can be difficult for an untrained eye to tell the difference and so if you are concerned, we recommend to contact The Lister Hospital to book an appointment with a GP.
What treatments are available for skin cancer at The Lister Hospital?
Fortunately most skin cancers can be effectively cured with early detection and appropriate removal. The exact treatment depends on the type of lesion and non-surgical treatments including creams may suffice. The Lister Hospital can also provide:
Dr Raj Mallipeddi is a Consultant Dermatologist at The Lister Hospital. Since 2008 he has been the Clinical Director of The Dermatological Surgery and Laser Unit at St John’s Institute of Dermatology, St Thomas’ Hospital, London. He is also the Lead for skin cancer at Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and is President of the British Society for Dermatological Surgery.