Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK, with rates set to rise due to the increased use of sun beds, and availability of inexpensive package holidays. 13,348 people in the UK were diagnosed with malignant melanoma skin cancer in 2011 and around 100,000 people were diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer in 2010. The biggest cause of skin cancer is the sun and ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
Excessive exposure to the sun, multiple instances of sunburn and the use of sun beds all lead to the development of skin cancers. In the UK, around 11,100 cases of malignant melanoma each year are linked to excessive sunlight.

If you have had a non melanoma skin cancer, you have a greater risk of getting another one. According to research, you are 10 times higher risk of a second non melanoma skin cancer. If you have had a melanoma, you are 3 times higher than average of risk of getting a non melanoma skin cancer.

Types of skin cancer

Skin cancers are broadly divided into 2 types: melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers. Non-melanoma skin cancers are the most common and include Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) and Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC). Malignant melanoma (MM) is the more serious of the skin cancers.

  • BCC is the most common skin cancer, especially in older, fair-skinned individuals. It usually appears on a sun-exposed area of the skin such as the neck or face.
  • SCC is the second most common skin cancer and is also more prevalent in older individuals. Both types of these non-melanoma skin cancer’s can vary in size, shape and colour.
  • MM is responsible for approximately 75-80% of skin cancer deaths, and the second most common cause of death in young people. It may develop from an existing mole or appear on a previously normal area of the skin.

Types of skin cancer

Melanoma

A melanoma does not necessarily cause itching, oozing, bleeding or any symptoms at all. An early melanoma often looks like an odd mole. Melanoma is the least common type of skin cancer, but the most serious. It can appear as a new mole, or a change in an existing one. Melanoma’s can appear anywhere on the body, but most often are found on the arms, face, legs and back. To help them assess a mole, most people (including doctors) use the ABCD algorithm:

  • Asymmetry
  • Border (ragged or blurred)
  • Colour (varied, black, not uniform)
  • Diameter (larger than 6mm)

When caught early, a melanoma can be treated, but caught late, can be fatal. Malignant melanoma (MM) is responsible for approximately 75-80% of skin cancer deaths and the second commonest cancer in young people.

Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common skin cancer and is also more prevalent in older people. SCC’s are uncontrolled growths of abnormal cells arising in the squamous cells, which are mainly composed of the skins upper layers. SCC’s often look like red, scaly patches, open sores, elevated growths with a central depression, or warts. These may crust or bleed.

SCC’s can occur on all areas of the body, but are most often found in areas exposed to the sun, such as rim of the ear, lower lip, face, neck, hands, arms and legs.

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) is the most common skin cancer (in fact, the commonest of all cancers) especially in older, fair-skinned people. BCC’s often look like open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps or scars. BCC’s usually appear as a red or pink lump, although they can appear to have a pearly-white or “waxy” appearance, and may contain visible blood vessels.

BCC’s can develop anywhere on the body, but again, usually appear on parts of the body that have been exposed to the sun. Lumps usually develop on the face, ears and neck, while the discoloured skin patches are most common on the chest and back areas of the body.