Skin cancer is the growth of abnormal cells on the outer layer of the skin. Mutation can cause these abnormal cells to multiply rapidly, leading to cancerous tumours. Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer diagnosed in the UK, and if caught early, it is highly treatable.
This article will explore the different types of skin cancer, what symptoms to be aware of, and the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer.
Skin Cancer Symptoms
There are several types of skin cancer, which we will discuss further below. The symptoms of skin cancer are usually painless and slow growing. They will most commonly show up on areas of the skin that are most often exposed to sunlight, though they can appear on any area of the body. Symptoms to be aware of include (The Christie NHS Foundation Trust, 2020):
- Pearly or waxy bumps
- Moles that change colour, size, shape, or bleed
- Painful or itchy lesions
- Scaly or crusty areas
- Firm red lumps
- Sores that do not heal
Seeking an early diagnosis is critical to having the best chance of beating skin cancer. In many cases, skin cancer can be treated even before it becomes cancerous, known as the pre-cancerous stage. If you notice any of the symptoms of skin cancer, it is crucial that you get a skin cancer screening and diagnosis as soon as possible.
Types Of Skin Cancer
There are three primary types of skin cancer (skincare.org, 2022):
Basal cell carcinoma
The first, basal cell carcinoma, is the most common type and develops in the basal cells, which are the cells that produce new skin cells. It is often slow-growing and rarely spreads throughout the body. If basal cell carcinoma is treated early enough, it can be eliminated entirely, though in some cases, it may return.
Squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma, or SCC, impacts the keratinocyte cells on the outer part of the top layer of skin. Like basal cell carcinoma, they most often grow slowly and can be effectively treated when caught early.
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that can spread throughout the body. Melanoma can grow quicker than other types of skin cancer and must be treated early for the best chance of a full recovery. The most common area for melanoma to occur is the back, legs, and chest.
Skin Cancer Diagnosis
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of skin cancer, the first step should be to consult your GP. They will be able to assess your symptoms and will refer you to a specialist if they suspect cancer could be the cause. Once referred, you should get your appointment with a specialist within two weeks.
Unfortunately, there is not currently a screening process available on the NHS to detect skin cancers. If you want to manage your risk of skin cancer, whether or not you have symptoms, you can get screened through private channels, such as through our health assessments here at Echelon Health.
Skin Cancer Tests
Diagnosing skin cancer usually begins with a visual examination by your GP, or a full-body mole screen, before you are referred to a specialist. The specialist will then typically perform a biopsy, which is the best way to determine if you have skin cancer and which type it is. This is the most conclusive method of diagnosing skin cancer and is usually effective and causes minimal pain or discomfort.
Skin Cancer Biopsy
When having a skin cancer biopsy, your doctor will begin by numbing the area. Often, the entire growth will be removed, and the doctor will then examine the growth to determine its nature. In some cases, only some of the growth will be removed for examination, but it is far more common for the entire growth to be removed. In many cases, this can eliminate the presence of skin cancer entirely.
Skin Cancer Treatment
Treatment will vary depending on the stage of your skin cancer. In the initial stages, often, the removal of growth for biopsy will be an effective treatment. If the cancer is at a later stage, it will usually require surgery, which may involve a skin graft for more serious cases. Depending on whether cancer has spread, you might need further surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.
Early-Stage Skin Cancer Treatment
Early-stage skin cancer, where cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes, is usually treated by removing the cancerous growth. This can be done under local anaesthetic but may be carried out under general anaesthetic if the cancer is more serious.
Skin cancer can be removed at an early stage with minimal or no scarring, though if the cancer is on a larger area of the skin, you may require a skin graft. For most patients with early-stage skin cancer, surgical removal of the growth will be an effective treatment, and skin cancer will not recur, though you will be monitored to ensure this is the case (CUH NHS Foundation Trust, 2022).
Late-Stage Skin Cancer Treatment
If your skin cancer has spread to your lymph nodes, this means that the cancer is late stage. Surgery will be required to remove the cancerous growth and ensure that all cancer has been caught. If the cancer has spread to your organs, this is the latest stage of skin cancer. Surgery will be used to remove cancer from affected organs, and treatments like radiotherapy and chemotherapy may be used to eliminate or reduce the presence of cancer.
Book A Cancer Scan with Echelon Health
Skin cancer is a highly treatable form of cancer, provided it is caught early. Biopsies are not only effective at diagnosing skin cancer but can often eliminate the cancer as well. If you notice any differences in your skin, whether painful or not, it is crucial that you seek advice from a medical professional.
Here at Echelon Health, we offer a comprehensive service screening the entire body for possible skin cancer. As part of our Platinum Assessment package, we work together with The Mole Clinic, an award-winning, dermatologist-led skin lesion clinic. Their specialist nurses, consultant dermatologists and plastic surgeons deliver high-quality clinical care to 40,000 patients every year.
But skin cancer is just one of the cancers that our flagship Platinum Assessment package is able to detect. Using the best imaging technology available, our MRI, CT, and ultrasound scanners we can detect liver, lung, breast, prostate cancer and more as well as other diseases such as coronary heart disease. The following scans are available in the Platinum Assessment:
- Blood Tests
- CT Aorta
- CT Heart
- CT Coronary Angiogram
- CT Chest
- CT Pelvis
- CT Virtual Colonoscopy
- CT Bone Density
- CT Upright Skeleton
- MRI Brain
- MRI Cerebral Artery Angiogram
- MRI Carotid Artery Angiogram
- MRI Prostate
- Ultrasound Thyroid
- Ultrasound Testes/Ovaries
- Digital Mammogram
- Full Body Mole Screen
skincare.org (2022). Skin care 101. Available at: https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/ accessed 31/05/2022
The Christie NHS Foundation trust (2020). Skin cancer. Available at: https://www.christie.nhs.uk/patients-and-visitors/your-treatment-and-care/types-of-cancer/skin-cancer accessed 31/05/2022
CUH NHS Foundation Trust (2022). How to check your skin for cancer. Available at: https://www.cuh.nhs.uk/our-services/dermatology/skin-cancer-service/how-to-check-your-skin-for-cancer/ accessed 31/05/2022
NHS (2020). Overview skin cancer Melanoma. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/melanoma-skin-cancer/ accessed 31/05/2022
NHS (2020a). Overview skin cancer non-melanoma. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/non-melanoma-skin-cancer/ 31/05/2022