Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer

What is skin cancer?

There are three main forms of skin cancer, which include squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma. This page will focus on non melanoma skin cancer.

Types of skin cancer (non melanoma)

The most frequent form of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma (BCC), which accounts for more than 75 percent of all skin cancer cases in the UK. BCC is a slow growing type of cancer that has its beginnings in the basal cells at the bottom of the epidermis and it is very rare for it to spread to other parts of the body. Squamous cell carcinoma develops in the outermost skin cells and only spreads to other parts of the body if the cancer is left untreated for a long period of time.

What are the causes of skin cancer?

Skin cancer is one of the few forms of cancer that has obvious causes. Causes of skin cancer include:

  • Exposure to sunlight: the sun is the major cause of skin cancer
  • Age: skin cancer is more common in older people, but it can affect people of all ages
  • Family history of skin cancer

Symptoms of skin cancer

Symptoms of basal cell skin cancer can develop anywhere on the body and cancerous cells may appear:

  • Waxy
  • Develop scabs
  • Become red and lumpy (these lumps usually develop slowly)
  • Bleed
  • Become ulcerous (the ulcers are not painful)

Symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma usually develop in areas of the body that have been exposed to the sun, such as the legs, arms and face and the skin usually looks scaly and crusty.

How is skin cancer diagnosed?

It is important to see your GP if you notice changes in your skin and although many skin conditions can cause similar symptoms it is always worth getting checked out. Your GP will ask you some questions and examine your skin to determine if you might have skin cancer. If they believe you have you will be sent to a specialists, who will conduct a number of tests to make a diagnosis.

How is skin cancer treated?

Surgery is usually an effective treatment for skin cancer and in most cases the cancerous cells can be surgically removed under local anaesthetic. Radiotherapy can also be used to treat skin cancer and may be chosen instead of surgery when the face is affected. This is because surgery on the face can be difficult and also to avoid scarring. Cryotherapy (freezing the skin) can also be used.

What is the outlook for people with skin cancer?

Skin cancer (non melanoma) has a very positive outlook and most people can be cured. Around 90 percent of people with basal cell carcinoma are cured and between 70 and 90 percent of squamous cell carcinoma are cured.

Living with skin cancer

Being able to accept that you have skin cancer can be very difficult, but there is plenty of help available from cancer charities in the UK. They can help to provide practical advice, information and support.

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