Skin Cancer

Why am I more at risk from skin cancer?

People who have already had a skin cancer or pre-cancerous lesion have generally had above average sun exposure (natural or artificial), and so may be at increased risk of getting more than one skin cancer.

What You should know / Frequently Ask Questions

Anyone can develop a skin cancer and the risk increases with time; however, some people are more likely than others and include those who have:

  • Fair skin that burns easily
  • Light coloured eyes, e.g. blue, grey or hazel
  • Naturally blonde or red hair
  • Numerous freckles
  • An outdoor occupation and/or had intense sun exposure in the past or currently(without the use of sun screen)
  • An outdoor recreation such as gardening, cycling, golf or sailing(without the use of sun screen)
  • Frequent use of artificial sun lamps and sunbeds
  • Experienced sunburnt skin
  • A history of skin cancer
  • Had an organ transplant, a blood disorder such as leukaemia and/or takenimmunosuppressive drug therapy

Treatment will be more effective if a skin cancer is detected early. For this reason, it is advisable to check your skin for changes approximately once a month. You may need to use a mirror to check your back; afriend, carer or family member can help you with this.You should see your doctor if you have either:

Marks on your skin which:

  • Grow
  • Bleed
  • Change in appearance in any way
  • Never heal completely
  • Any existing moles that change size, shape, colour or texture.

The three main types of skin cancers are:

  • Basal cell carcinoma (rodent ulcer).

Most basal cell carcinomas are painless. People often first become aware of a possible basal cell carcinoma as a scab that bleeds occasionally and does not heal completely. Some basal cell carcinomas are very superficial and look like a scaly flat red mark: others have a pale shiny rim surrounding a central crater. If left for years, the latter type can erode the skin, eventually causing an ulcer -hence the name “rodent ulcer

  • Squamous cell carcinoma.

A squamous cell carcinoma usually appears as a scaly or crusty raised area of skin, with a red, inflamed base. It may look like an irritated wart, or develop to form a bleeding ulcer. Most small squamous cell carcinomas are not painful, but pain in a growing lump is a suspicious symptom for squamous cell carcinoma. They occur most often on the face, bald scalp, neck, ears, lips, back of the hands and forearms. Organ transplant patients are more at risk from this form of skin cancer (see Patient Information Leaflet of Squamous Cell Carcinoma)

  • Melanoma.

Melanomas are more rare, but are the most serious type of skin cancer. They are usually irregular brown or black spots, which may develop within a pre-existing mole or appear on normal skin that never had a mole in that place before. Any changes in a mole or any new mole occurring for the first time after the age of 40, should be shown to your doctor.

There are many ways in which you can help to reduce your chances of getting skin cancer. These are:

  • Learn how to recognise the early signs
  • Examine your skin regularly for these signs
  • Arrange an annual check from your dermatologist
  • Protect your skin from the sun
  • Do not use sunlamps, sunbedsor visit tanning shops regardless of how safe it may be advertised
  • Avoid getting a sunburn

Exposure to the sun is the main cause of skin cancer. This does not just mean sunbathing; you expose yourself to the sun each time you do any outdoor activities, including gardening, walking, sports, or even a long drive in the car. The sun can cause problems all year round, not just in the summer. You can take some simple precautions to protect your skin by following the below ‘top sun safety tips:

  • Protect your skin with clothing, and remember to wear a hat that protects your face, neck and ears, and a pair of UV protective sunglasses.
  • Stay in the shade between 11am and 3pm when the sun is particularly strong. Step out of the sun before your skin has a chance to redden or burn.
  • When choosing a sunscreen look for a high protection SPF (SPF 30 or higher) to protect against UVB, and the UVA circle logo and/or 4 or 5 UVA stars to protect against UVA. Apply plenty of sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before going out in the sun, and reapply frequently during the dayand straight after swimming and towel-drying.
  • Keep babies and young children out of direct sunlight
  • Tell your doctor about any changes to a mole or patch of skin. •Sunscreens should not be used as an alternative to clothing and shade, rather they offer additional protection. No sunscreen will provide 100% protection.
  • Remember that winter sun, such as on a skiing holiday, can emit just as much of the damaging ultra-violet light as summer sun(especially at high altitudes).
  • Consider purchasing UV protective swim and beach wear which can particularly assist in protecting the trunk when swimming on holiday.
  • If you are not often outdoors, are in an institution such as care home or usually wear clothes that cover up most of your skin when outdoors, you should consider taking 10mcg of Vitamin D supplement tablets (available from health food stores)throughout the year,as strictly avoiding sunlight can reduce your Vitamin D levels.

Most skin cancers, if treated early, can be cured. That is why it is important to report any new or changing skin lesions to your doctor. Basal cell carcinoma scan be cured in almost every case and seldom, if ever, spread to other parts of the body. Treatment may be more complicated if they have been neglected for a very long period of time or if they are in an awkward place -such as near the eye, nose or ear. In a few cases squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma may spread (metastasise) to lymph glands and other organs.

Thereare various treatments available depending on the type of skin cancer:

  • Surgery
  • Curettage and cautery
  • Cryotherapy
  • Creams
  • Photodynamic therapy
  • Radiotherapy