Skin Cancer

I have spotted and referred a few skin cancers in my time in practice and it is never pleasant to break bad news about my concerns. I have even noticed troubling lesions, which the patient hadn’t noticed and presented with something else! It is always a good idea to take notice of your skin and be mindful of skin lesions that are new or have changed in some way. Your doctor will see plenty of skin lesions during their day-to-day practice and should be more than happy to take a look at lesions that are of concern to you. There are clear guidelines on what to do with suspected skin cancers and this will help ensure that suspicious moles and other types of suspected skin cancers are managed quickly and properly. If you live on your own and have nobody that sees your ‘blind spots’ on a regular basis, it is always worth having a close friend of family member having a check every now and then.

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What are skin cancer signs?

The clinical signs of skin cancer vary dependent on the skin cancer type that you are referring to. Malignant melanomas (MM), squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) and basal cell carcinomas (BCC) each have distinctive characteristics. If you want to see more advice on how to spot suspicious moles then take a look at my video “I have a mole that I am concerned about, what should I be looking for?” As mentioned above, UK GPs are fortunate to have easy to follow guidance on what to refer for suspected skin cancers. The guidance is called the “Two week wait referral guides” and are available to guide doctors for most cancers. There are some really helpful pictures of SCCs and BCCs here and MMs here on the Cancer Research UK pages that you can compare your lesion of concern with. My advice would always be that if you are concerned, check, your doctor may be able to reassure you and give you that piece of mind that you are looking for.

How common is skin cancer?

In 2010, over 12,000 new cases of malignant melanoma (MM) were diagnosed, which is roughly 35 new diagnoses a day. Approximately 100,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) were also diagnosed. Of these 2,749 people died of MM and 546 died of NMSC. The amount of MM cancers being diagnosed is four times higher than it was thirty years ago and this is a faster increase than any other of the top 10 most common cancers in the UK. Although doctors picking up more of them can explain some of this, our exposure to harmful UV rays has increased over this time with more of us taking holidays where the sun’s rays are stronger and also the use of sunbeds, which increases MM risk. MM is twice as common in women under the age of 34 as it is in similarly aged men. For women the most common place to find MM is on the legs but it is the chest and back for men.

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