There are 3 types of skin cancer that are common in the United Kingdom. Basal cell carcinomas (BCC, previously known as rodent ulcers), squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) and melanoma.
Basal cell carcinomas are the commonest form of skin cancer accounting for almost 80% of all skin cancers. They belong to a group of skin cancers called non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) and their incidence is estimated at 100,000 per annum in the UK. The estimated lifetime risk for BCC in the white population is 33-39% for men and 23-28% for women.
Fair-skin and chronic sun exposure are both important factors in the development of basal cell carcinomas. BCCs typically appear as a small nodule or ulcer.
BCCs very rarely metastasize but can cause significant morbidity by invading and destroying surrounding tissue.
Sqauamous cel carcinoma are the second most common type of skin cancer and together with BCC, are collectively referred to as non-melanoma skin cancer.
Squamous cell carcinomas can occur on any part of the body, but are most common on areas that are exposed to the sun, such as the head and neck (including the lips and ears) and the backs of the hands. They can also appear in old scars, ulcers, burns and skin previously treated with radiotherapy. SCCs typically appear as a nodule, ulcer or scaly patch.
SCCs can be cured if they are detected early and appropriate treatment undertaken.
Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer and has the ability to spread to surrounding skin and other parts of the body, such as lymph nodes, liver and lungs. Melanoma is a malignant tumour of melanocytes, cells in the skin that produce melanin, a pigment that gives skin its colour.
The majority of melanomas are black or brown. However, some may be skin-colored, pink or red.
For the majority of patients diagnosed with melanoma, an excision biopsy (excision of the tumour along with a margin of normal tissue) followed by wider excision is all that is required. However, it is crucial that the melanoma is removed as early as possible as this correlates with improved survival.
Anyone with a suspicious mole or blemish should seek an opinion of a doctor without delay.