What are skin cancer signs and symptoms, what does melanoma look like and is it caused by sunburn?

THERE are hundreds of different types of cancers and it remains one of the biggest killers.

The most deadly form is lung cancer, followed by bowel, prostate and then breast.

These four cancers account for nearly half, 45 per cent, of overall deaths from cancer.

In the UK, around 16,200 people a year are diagnosed with skin cancer , according to Cancer Research.

From those patients, around 2,333 deaths tragically happen.

And spotting the early signs of the disease could make all the difference when it comes to survival.

Experts recommend people perform regular checks of their skin to spot potential signs of the disease returning, or new melanomas appearing.

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells.

This growth can occur when damage is caused to skin cells – most often caused by UV radiation from sunshine or tanning beds.

This damage can triggers mutations, or genetic defects, that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumours.

Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer, and is the fifth most common in the UK.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • A spot, pimple or sore
  • Ulcer
  • A lump
  • Red patches on your skin

What are the risk factors?

  • Age, the older you are, the more likely you are to develop non melanoma skin cancer.
  • Previous skin cancer
  • Family history of skin cancer
  • Sun exposure
  • Certain skin conditions, such as solar keratosis, xeroderma pigmentosum, and those undergoing treatment for Psoriasis or eczema.
  • Other risks include, those with a weakened immune system or past radiation exposure
  • Sunburn increases your chances of developing the disease. Getting sunburnt just five times can raise your risk of contracting skin cancer by 80 per cent.

Types of skin cancer

Melanoma

This can appear anywhere on the body, but is most common on the back, legs, arms and face.

Melanomas can spread to other organs in the body – which makes them more deadly.

The most common indication of melanoma is the appearance of a new mole or a change in an existing mole.

Watch out for moles that are:

  • Getting bigger
  • Changing shape
  • Changing colour
  • Bleeding or getting crusty
  • Itchy or painful

Basal cell cancers

Basal cell cancer (BCC) is sometimes referred to as a rodent ulcer.

The disease affects the outermost layers of cells in the skin.

Signs of BCCs, include a skin growth that:

  • Looks smooth and pearly
  • Seems waxy
  • Looks like a firm, red lump
  • Sometimes bleeds
  • Develops a scab or crust
  • Never completely heals
  • Is itchy
  • Looks like a flat red spot and is scaly and crusty
  • Develops into a painless ulcer

Around 75 per cent of all skin cancers are BCCs, which are typically slow-growing and almost never spread to other parts of the body.

If treated at an early stage, this form of skin cancer is usually completely cured.

If they do become more aggressive, BCCs may spread into the deeper layers of the skin and into the bones – which can make treating it more difficult.

Squamous cell carcinoma

Another form of non-melanoma, skin cancer, is squamous cell carcinoma.

This is a cancer of the keratinocyte cells which are in the outer layer of the skin.

These cells are mainly found on the face, neck, bald scalps, arms, backs of hands and lower legs.

It is the second most common type of skin cancer and may:

  • Appear scaly
  • Have a hard, crusty cap
  • Raised skin
  • Tender to touch
  • Bleed sometimes

Can the disease be treated?

When found early, skin cancer can often be treated successfully.

How skin cancer is treated depends on a few factors.

Types of treatment can depend on the type of skin cancer, how far it's spread, where the cancer is and what stage it’s at.

The main treatment for skin cancer is surgery to remove it from the affected area.

Usually, the surgery carried out is minor and carried out under local anaesthetic.

Some may be given a skin graft depending on where the cancer is – or if it covers a larger area.

However, types of surgery do vary, and depend on where the cancer is and how big it is.

When surgery cannot be used, other treatments include: radiotherapy, immunotherapy and chemotherapy cream.

For more information visit: cancerresearchuk.org

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