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There are two main types of skin cancer: Melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer.
Non-melanoma skin cancers include basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
These cancers have a high cure rate and can be managed surgically or non-surgically.
Melanomas start in cells known as melanocytes and are less common, but more serious than non-melanoma skin cancers. These have the potential to spread and can be fatal. These are managed surgically.
Skin cancers tend to occur in sun damaged skin.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of melanoma include change to a mole, freckle, or patch of normal skin. Changes include itching, bleeding, crusting, and inflammation.
Changes in size, shape, colour, and the development of asymmetry can be early warning signs.
Melanomas can also occur under the nails, on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet, and in non-sun-exposed sites.
Early surgical removal is key to preventing spread via the lymph nodes to the rest of the body.
Basal cell carcinomas tend to present as slow-growing, non-healing area which may bleed and crust repeatedly over a period of months to years. The are often referred to a shiny or pearly lumps with very fine blood vessels on the surface. If left untreated the can ulcerate, but only invade the local tissue. For this reason they are sometime called rodent ulcers. They rarely spread around the body.
Squamous cell carcinomas tend to present as crusty lesions which grow rapidly and can become very tender over a period of weeks to months. They may initially look like a viral wart or a small ‘horn’, before progressing into a firm lump. If left untreated they can spread via the lymph nodes to the rest of the body.
Do I need any tests to confirm diagnosis?
Non-melanoma skin cancers have a characteristic appearance but this can be confirmed with a diagnostic biopsy.
Melanomas ca be confirmed by complete excision.
In some cases an incision biopsy is preferable
What treatment are available?
Non-melanoma skin cancers can be managed surgically and non-surgically by dermatologists, plastic surgeons, and radiotherapy doctors.
At St Georges Hospital we have multidisciplinary clinics dedicated to the management of these patients.
Melanomas are managed surgically by the Dermatologists initially and Plastics Surgeons subsequently.
If the melanoma has spread to the lymph nodes and beyond, the patients are managed in a multidisciplinary setting, and offered surgery, oncology, or radiotherapy.
All patients diagnosed with skin cancer see a Macmillan nurse and are given relevant information about their illness as well as contact details of their keyworker.
Is there anything I can do to help myself?
The risk of developing a skin cancer is related to several factors.
Exposure to too much ultraviolet light increases your risk; Avoiding sun damage or sunburn reduces the risk. It is important to be careful when in the sun and advisable to wear sun screen. Sunburn in childhood should be avoided.
Research shows that sunbeds are a cause of melanoma and should be avoided.
Patients with many moles have a higher risk of developing a melanoma compared to patients with fewer than 15 moles.
A weakened immune system is likely to predispose you to a skin cancer.