Skin Cancer – If in doubt – Check it out!

There are two main groups of skin cancer (i) cancer in moles – melanoma and (ii) cancer in skin cells that aren’t moles (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.)

In the UK, each year, about 9,500 people are diagnosed with melanoma. Non melanoma skin cancer (basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma) is much more common, about 100, 000 in the UK, each year are diagnosed with non melanoma skin cancer. [Data from Cancer Research UK]

Non melanoma skin cancer (basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas) tend not to spread and are relatively slow growing – although they still need to be treated. Most types of non-melanoma skin cancers are caused by the sun. When they first appear they can look like small “sores” , they  tend to get larger and they don’t heal. They tend to form on the bits of your body that see the sun, face, scalp, neck, ears and shoulders. Cancer Research UK have some information on non melanoma skin cancer. NHS Choices also have a short video on non melanoma cancers from a skin cancer expert.

The other type of skin cancer, melanomas are rarer, but are more likely to be serious (they can spread to other parts of your body and in advanced cases can be fatal). If you are a man, you are most likely to get a melanoma on your back, if you are a women, you are most likely to get a melanoma on your legs (however they can develop anywhere on the body). See the SunSmart section of the Cancer Research UK website for more information on where melanomas develop. Okay, so most people know that a mole that changes and grows can be a sign of skin cancer, but what is normal?  About one third (33 %) of melanomas happen in moles that you already have, about two thirds (66 %) of melanomas show up as new moles on skin that was previously normal. Detecting Skin Cancer from Cancer Research UK has some pictures of moles and what you should look out for. If you would like to find more information on other, rarer forms of skin cancer then have a read of the Macmillan Backup website here.

Sunburn can double your risk of skin cancer. Sun beds also cause cancer. A sun tan is a sign of skin damage. Although the north east of Scotland may not seem that sunny people do still develop melanoma (especially if you work outdoors). The latest figures I could find were from 2002, about 26 people in Aberdeen City and 32 people in Aberdeenshire were diagnosed with melanoma [Data from IDS Scotland]

So, in summary, if you notice any changes in your skin that worry you, see your GP. If in doubt – check it out!

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