What is skin cancer?

A skin cancer is a 'growth' of tissue made up from cancer cells which continue to multiply. Malignant tumours can invade into nearby tissues and cause damage. Most types of malignant tumour tend to spread (metastasise) to other parts of the body but this is more unusual in the case of skin cancer.

Skin cancers are divided into:

  • Melanoma ('malignant melanoma').

This type of skin cancer develops from melanocytes. These are the pigment cells within the skin which can become abnormal

  • Non-melanoma Skin Cancer (NMSC). These are divided into:

    • Basal cell carcinoma (BCC, or 'rodent ulcer')- skin cancer which develops from basal cells.

    • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)- skin cancer which develops from keratinocytes.

    • Other- other types of skin cancer are rare.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes skin cancer?

    The cause of most skin cancers is secondary to sun damage to the skin or from sunbed usage. About 90% of NMSCs and about 60% of melanomas are thought to be caused by excessive exposure to the sun. In particular, past episodes of sunburn significantly increase the risk. It is the ultraviolet (UV) radiation in the sunshine which does the damage. Skin cells which are damaged are at greater risk of becoming abnormal and cancerous. Although skin cancer is rare in children, the amount of sun exposure during childhood is thought to increase the risk of developing skin cancers in adult life. Therefore, it is vital to protect children from too much sunshine. 

  • What is the treatment and outlook for skin cancer?

    All three main types of skin cancer - BCC, SCC and melanoma - are curable if they are detected at an early stage. A small minor operation or other method to remove the affected area of skin is all that is required in early cases.

    For non-melanoma skin cancers the overall cure rate is over 95%, even for ones which have been present a while. However, the larger they grow, the more difficult they are to treat. More extensive surgery or other localised treatments may be needed if they grow large or deep before they are treated.

    For melanomas, the risk of spread to other parts of the body is high. This is why urgent early treatment is needed. If it has already spread to other areas of the body then there is less chance of a cure. Treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy or immunotherapy may be used for melanomas which have spread. 

  • How can I check for the early signs skin cancer?

    Try to get to know the site and look of the normal moles or marks on your body so that you will know if there has been any change. If you notice any new growth or new change on your skin and you do not know what it is then see a doctor. In particular, if you notice any change in the size, shape or colour of an existing mole, or if a new dark area of skin develops.

  • How can I prevent skin cancer from developing?

    Most skin cancers are caused by excessive exposure to the sun. We should all limit our sun exposure in the summer months (or all year when in hot countries nearer the equator) by:

    • Staying indoors or seeking the shade as much as possible between 11am and 3pm.
    • Covering up with clothes and a wide brimmed hat when we are out in the sunshine.
    • Applying sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 30 or more to all exposed areas of skin when we are out in strong sunlight.

    In particular, children should be protected from the sun. Sunburn or excessive exposure to the sun in childhood is thought to be the biggest risk factor for the developing of skin cancer as an adult

Please contact Mr Banwell's office on 01342 330302 or email help@skinhealth.org.uk for further information.

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