How early detection is crucial with skin cancer
Most skin cancers are caused by sunlight, and more specifically, UV light. The skin cells become damaged by over exposure to ultraviolet radiation. The main types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma, which is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Although rare, melanoma can kill. Both basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are commonly known non-melanoma skin cancers in contrast to melanoma.
Increasingly people of Celtic and light skin races are being diagnosed with skin cancer, and epidemiologists estimate that approximately 50% to 70% of white Caucasian British will develop a skin cancer by the time they are 70. The majority will, fortunately, be non-melanoma skin cancers.
Non-melanoma skin cancers are more common in men than in women. They are also more common in immunosuppressed patients such as those who have had a renal transplant or have an immunological deficiency from a separate leukaemia or on immunosuppressant drugs.
Of all cancers, skin cancers are increasing despite our efforts to protect ourselves against the sun. It is one of the commonest causes of GP patient consultation and probably forms up to a quarter of the patients seen by Dr Jennifer Crawley in her private practice at Clinica London.
People can die of skin cancer. The majority of those who die have an advanced melanoma at presentation, but unfortunately, a few also die from non-melanoma skin cancers, particularly if they receive a late intervention. The survival rate in five years for melanoma is just under 90% for men and just over 90% for women. The five-year survival rate for non-melanoma skin cancer is more in the region of 60% to 65% for men and 70% to 75% for women. It makes it sound as though a lot of people are going to survive, which is indeed the case for both types. But, these numbers do not show the depth of the problem for those who do not survive as it is an either/or figure. You are either dead or alive at five years.
The sooner, therefore, that a specialist can identify and treat skin cancer, the better your chance is going to be of avoiding surgery as dermatologists can treat many small cancers with creams. If you find treatment early enough, you can avoid more major interventional surgery, particularly in the case of melanoma which could also bring potential disfigurement or even death. If you think that you may have a small skin cancer, it is worth talking to your doctor and getting a referral to Dr Jennifer Crawley for advice about early detection. She can use the dermatoscope, which can help to identify some other features of melanoma. Otherwise, a lot of early detection is based on history together with the macroscopic appearance and finally a small biopsy.
In particular, you should concern yourself if you have any crusty non-healing sores on your face behind the ears, chest, arms, legs and even trunk. Some people unfortunately also get skin cancers within their hair. Any small lumps that are red, pale or slightly pearly in colour can represent a basal cell carcinoma. Any new pigmented spots, freckles or moles or ones that are changing in colour, thickness or shape over a period of just weeks to months mainly need to be inspected. Especially those lesions which are those spots that are dark brown to black or red and blue/black may well be a melanoma.