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The cause of most skin cancers is sun damage to the skin, in particular episodes of sunburn. There are three main types:
Other types of skin cancer are rare (<1% of UK skin cancers).
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All three main types of skin cancer are curable if detected early, by removing affected area. BCCs and SCCs usually grow slowly; some will spread if left to grow, occasionally SCC spreads quite early. Overall cure rate for BCC and SCC is >95%, but the larger they grow, the harder they are to treat. Melanoma is extremely malignant.
Develops in rounded, basal cells of the epidermis. Common, and causes >75% of UK skin cancers. Often starts as a small, red, shiny nodule that may bleed occasionally. May eventually develop into a persistent ‘rodent ulcer,' looking like a small inflamed crater with a raised edge.
Develops in the flattened, surface cells of the epidermis. Causes 20% of skin cancers. Typically starts as a small crusted or scaly area with a red or pink base, and may grow into a lump looking like a wart.
Melanoma develops from melanocytes, cells scattered among the basal cells. Typically starts as a small dark patch; can develop from normal skin or an existing mole. May itch, bleed, crust or ulcerate as it grows. Advice to patients from Cancer Research UK is to see a doctor if they have a mole that is:
Mole or melanoma? ABCD sums up differences:
Measure the lesion and record a description, eg irregular margins, irregular pigmentation, nodular areas. Note and examine all other pigmented naevi, feel for regional lymphadenopathy, examine for hepatomegaly. Suspicion of melanoma warrants urgent referral to a specialist
Melanomas are extremely malignant. They need urgent early treatment because the risk of metastasis is high.
NICE NG12. Suspected cancer: recognition and referral https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng12
Cancer Research UK. Melanoma skin cancer (includes images of abnormal moles) https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/melanoma
MacMillan Cancer Support. Skin cancer. https://www.macmillan.org.uk/cancer-information-and-support/skin-cancer
DermIS. Dermatology Information System. Images of BCC, SCC https://www.dermis.net/dermisroot/en/home/index.htm