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HOW COMMON IS SKIN CANCER?
It is the most common group of cancers in the UK, with around 60,000 new cases in England and Wales each year – 20% of all cancer registrations. This figure has more than doubled in the past 10 years.
WHO IS AT RISK?
The fair skin type that burns easily on exposure to the sun and does not tan is at the highest risk. The easier the skin tans, the lower the risk, but even darker skin types can develop skin cancer. Individuals who have had a lot of sun exposure, or have used sun beds, are also at a higher risk, as are patients taking immunosuppressing medication for conditions such as organ transplants.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?
The majority of skin cancers (95%) are one of the three main types: basal cell carcinoma (also known as rodent ulcer), squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Of the three, melanoma has the most potential to spread, causing 80% of deaths from skin cancer. Prompt diagnosis is crucial as the earlier stage of melanoma has the best chance of survival. Squamous cell carcinomas and basal cell carcinomas often appear on areas that are constantly exposed to the sun such as the face, scalp and back of the hands. A small proportion of squamous cell carcinomas can spread via lymph nodes, hence diagnosis and treatment should be swift. Basal cell carcinomas do not usually spread or pose a threat to life.
IS SKIN CANCER HEREDITARY?
There may be a higher risk of melanoma if a close relative has had it. Squamous cell carcinomas are not hereditary, neither are basal cell carcinomas, unless they are part of a syndrome called Gorlin’s syndrome.
HOW CAN I PREVENT IT?
Wear protective clothing, stay in the shade between 11am-3pm wherever possible during the summer, and wear a broad brimmed hat and sunglasses. Also, use a good sunscreen on exposed skin. Examining your whole skin every four to six weeks, looking for unusual lesions that are asymmetrical in shape and colour or are changing, growing, bleeding and scabbing, is the best way to detect it early.
AM I AT RISK OF LOW VITAMIN D IF I AVOID THE SUN?
Yes. It is recommended that individuals who avoid the sun should check their vitamin D levels and, if low, take regular supplements.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TREATMENTS FOR SKIN CANCER?
There are surgical and non-surgical treatments for skin cancers depending on the type. The most common is skin surgery which is often performed under local anaesthetic as a day case. This is the recommended treatment for melanoma and often performed by dermatologists. Other treatments for non-melanoma skin cancers include radiotherapy, topical treatment with creams or photodynamic therapy.
WHO SHOULD I SEE IF I AM WORRIED ABOUT A MOLE OR SKIN LESION?
All suspicious skin cancers should be seen by a person trained in recognising and treating skin cancers. Firstly, see your GP who will refer you urgently to a dermatologist if they have any concerns. This will allow for early diagnosis and a suitable treatment plan.
Dr Kathy Taghipour is a Consultant Dermatologist at Highgate Private Hospital, specialising in dermatological conditions including acne, eczema, psoriasis, autoimmune blistering diseases, female dermatology and skin cancer diagnosis. Dr Taghipour is currently the Lead Physician for skin cancer services at the Whittington Health NHS Trust, and she is actively involved in teaching medical students, hospital doctors and GPs.
A private consultation with Dr Taghipour at Highgate Private Hospital costs £220 if you are self-funding your treatment. We accept all major health insurers, but please contact your insurance company prior to booking an appointment if you plan to use your private health insurance.
To book an appointment:
T: 020 8341 4142