There are three main types of skin cancer:

  • Basal cell cancer – the cancer develops from cells that are found in the deepest layer of the epidermis and around the hair follicle.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma – the cancer develops in cells called keratinocytes, found in the epidermis layer of the skin.
  • Malignant melanoma – the cancer develops from skin cells called melanocytes.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common skin cancer in the UK, about 75% of those diagnosed with skin cancer are diagnosed with this. It is a slow-growing cancer and almost never spreads to other parts of the body. Nearly everyone who is diagnosed with BCC makes a complete recovery.

BCC can appear in a variety of forms. They are usually painless and grow slowly. They can show up anywhere on your body but are most likely to appear on exposed skin. Look out for areas of your skin that may:

  • Be smooth and pearly.
  • Look waxy.
  • Appear firm, red lump.
  • Bleed sometimes.
  • Develop a scab or crust.
  • Never completely heals.
  • Be itchy.
  • Look like a flat, red spot which is scaly and crusty.
  • Develop into a painless ulcer.

The most common treatment for this type of skin cancer is surgery. Doctors may suggest cryotherapy which can remove small cancers that only affect the surface layers of the skin by freezing them. Occasionally some BCCs are aggressive and if left to grow, may spread into the deeper layers of the skin and sometimes to the bones. This can make treatment difficult.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a cancer of the cells in the outer layer of the skin, whereas BCC is a cancer of the cells just below your epidermis. Most people treated for SCC are completely cured as this is a slow growing cancer. Only occasionally can this cancer behave more aggressively and spread at an earlier stage. The cancer usually develops in areas that have been damaged by sun exposure. They are mainly found on the face, next, bald scalps, arms, backs of hands and lower legs. Squamous cells may:

  • Look scaly.
  • Have a hard, horny cap.
  • Make the skin raised in the area of the cancer.
  • Feel tender to touch.
  • Bleed sometimes.

If you notice anything unusual on your skin that doesn’t go away in a month, show it to your doctor. It might help to take a photograph of anything unusual so you can check for any changes.

Treatment for SCC is similar to BCC and will depend on the size of the cancer and where it is.

Malignant melanoma is a less common type of skin cancer and behaves differently to BCC and SCC. It can grow quickly and needs to be treated early. Melanoma can start in a mole or normal-looking skin. The number of people developing melanoma is increasing and in the UK it is slightly more common in women than in men. It can affect people of all ages from 15-34 years and older.

Melanoma develops from melanocytes (the cells that produce melanin which protects our skin from the sun) that start to grow and divide more quickly than usual. They can start to spread into the surrounding surface layers of the skin. When they grow out of control, they usually look like a dark spot or an unusual-looking mole on your skin.

It is important to find and treat melanoma as early as possible as if it is not removed the cells can grow deeper into the layers of the skin and travel to other parts of the body.

Early-stage or thin melanomas are unlikely to spread and are usually cured with surgery. Melanoma has several stages and doctors will decide on the best treatment for you based on which stage your cancer is at.

All the information about skin cancer and melanoma has been gathered from Macmillan Cancer Support for more in depth information please visit their website.

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