Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the skin. It occurs when cells are damaged, usually by UV radiation from the sun. It can be superficial or spread deeply into the skin or other parts of the body. Anyone can be at risk of developing skin cancer but the risk increases with age.
There are three main types of skin cancer: Melanoma, Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) and Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC). Melanoma is less common than BCC and SCC but it is more serious as it can spread to other parts of the body if not treated at an early stage.
Skin cancers are not always easy to identify so any changes to your skin should be checked by a doctor.
Melanoma can appear in new or existing marks (for example, moles or freckles) that change colour, shape or thickness over weeks or months. Spots with irregular edges are suspicious.
Basal Carcinomas are typically slow growing and can be a pearl coloured lump or scaly. They may become inflamed and bleed and then heal, then become inflamed again.
Squamous Cell Carcinomas are often quick growing, red, scaly, crusted and tender.
Usually a GP will examine your skin. Minor skin cancers can be treated by the GP or a Dermatologist. They may perform a biopsy. You might be referred to a specialist, such as a surgeon, if your case is more complex.
Skin Cancer is usually removed. Sometimes the biopsy removes all the cancer and no further treatment is needed.
There are many ways skin cancer can be removed. Minor skin cancers are commonly removed with: curettage and cautery, cryotherapy with liquid nitrogen and topical treatments.
The most common treatment is surgery. Simple surgery can be performed by a GP or Dermatologist using a local anaesthetic. The skin cancer and some surrounding tissue is cut out and the wound closed with stitches. A pathologist checks that all the cancer has been removed. The results from the pathologist will usually take about a week.
Larger or more complex surgery may be carried out in a hospital under a local or general anaesthetic. If a large area of skin is removed a skin flap or skin graft might be needed.
If it is suspected that the cancer has spread, lymph nodes may be removed to reduce the chance of the cancer spreading to other parts of the body. This is performed in hospital under a general anaesthetic and will usually require an overnight stay.
If detected early most skin cancers can be successfully treated. Your doctor can give you likely outcomes depending on your situation. It is important to stick to the schedule of follow up appointments that the doctor recommends, for example, six monthly skin and lymph node checks.