Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is becoming increasingly common, as the number of people using sun beds and spending long periods of time in the sun without using sun cream, is increasing. Skin cancer can be classified into two different categories, malignant melanoma and non-melanoma. Malignant melanomas are the most dangerous form of skin cancer as they can cause cancer to spread to other parts of the body; each year 1,500 people die as a result of malignant melanomas. Non-melanomas affect the layers of cells nearest the surface of the skin. There are an estimated 100,000 new cases of non-melanoma each year across England and Wales; malignant melanomas are much rarer and account for only 10 percent of cases of skin cancer each year.

Causes of skin cancer

The most common contributor to skin cancer is exposure to direct sunlight or harmful artificial UV rays (such as those in sun beds). Family history may also increase the risk of developing skin cancer. Other risk factors include:

  • Being fair (both hair and skin)
  • Having blue eyes
  • Having lots of moles and freckles
  • Having a suppressed immune system (as a result of a health condition such as HIV, for example or as a result of taking certain medications)

Symptoms of skin cancer

The most obvious sings to look out for are changes to the appearance or size of moles or the development of new moles. Moles that are affected by skin cancer may change shape, have abnormal looking borders, be made up of different colours, be larger than normal moles or be an abnormal shape. Non-melanoma symptoms may also include the development of small lumps and discoloured, flaky patches of skin.

Treatment for skin cancer

If you have any of the symptoms listed above or are worried about skin cancer, you should see your doctor as soon as possible; the earlier the condition is diagnosed, the greater the chances of survival. Malignant melanomas are treated according to the stage of the cancer; stage 1 is the least serious and stage 4 is the most serious. If the cancer has not spread to other areas of the body, the cancer can usually be treated effectively by removing the affected skin. Stage 4 cancers are usually treated with a combination of medication, radiotherapy and chemotherapy; in many cases, however, people may not recover.

Treatment for non-melanoma skin cancer usually involves methods of removing affected areas of skin; these treatments include surgery, radiotherapy, immunotherapy, chemotherapy, photodynamic therapy (PDT) and cryotherapy (freezing the area of skin).

Preventing skin cancer

The most effective way to prevent skin cancer is to wear high factor sun cream in the sun (at least factor 15), keep hydrated and avoid sun exposure between 11am and 3pm (this is when the sun is at its strongest). If you notice any changes in your skin see your doctor as quickly as possible.

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Excessive sweating