Skin cancer & moles
Skin cancer falls into two main categories: melanoma and non-melanoma. The melanoma category is much less common than non-melanoma, but it is far more dangerous. The non-melanoma skin cancers are generally divided into Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) and Squamous cell Carcinoma (SCC), the BCC being more common and less dangerous.
Melanoma is the most feared skin cancer but when discovered early, 5 year survival rates are over 95%, the same as other skin cancers. However, any delay in diagnosis, and the 5-year survival rate drops to 40-50%. Early diagnosis is critical because this type of cancer can quickly spread through the bloodstream to vital organs. Melanoma begins when a pigment producing skin cell (melanocyte) goes rogue and begins to divide rapidly, destroying adjacent normal tissue. The cancerous melanocytes can come from any areas of normal skin and can commonly develop from dysplastic nevi (atypical moles that look like they may become cancerous). In these atypical moles the melanocytes cause the mole to change colour, usually becoming darker from its original state, or occasionally losing colour. Melanomas are not painful.
Early diagnosis, treatment and prevention.
Have regular routine mole check ups with the dermatologist where they can carefully screen your entire body (including the soles of your feet) to identify any suspicious moles. If any are found they can be quickly, painlessly and easily removed and sent for analysis. If you have many moles you can prevent them from becoming cancerous by protecting your skin in the sun. By avoiding over-exposure to UV rays, you can reduce your chances of developing melanoma.
Treatment options include:
- The initial treatment for a suspected melanoma is to have it removed surgically and the excised tissue is then sent to a pathologist to confirm the diagnosis. The procedure is fast and painless.
- The common treatment for BCC is to have it surgically excised, in a short procedure in-clinic. BCC survival rates are very high, over 95% when they are not neglected.
- The standard care for addressing SCCs is surgical excision during an outpatient procedure that takes 10-15 minutes.
- Protection is also critical: our Dermatologists and Medical Aestheticians can recommend the most suitable products containing a high SPF to use 365 days a year.
FOCUS ON: A yearly screen to check your moles is strongly recommended, twice yearly if you have a family history of melanoma so that your dermatologist can make an early diagnosis. Our consultant dermatologists have expertise in skin cancer as well as general dermatology and together with our medical aestheticians, can recommend skin care products containing a high SPF to suit your skin type give you year-round protection.
The primary risk factors for developing melanoma are a personal or strong family history of developing melanoma. If you have numerous moles you therefore have more melanocytes and a higher risk of one going rogue and proliferating. Skin cancers are more commonly found in people with fair skin and/or red hair. Patients who have been treated with immuno-suppressant agents such as chemotherapy and radiation have increased risk. Significantly people who have had at least one blistering sunburn in the past have increased risk of melanoma. The ultraviolet light rays your skin was exposed to between the ages of 0-18 will have already determined if you get skin cancer, but when you get it will be determined how careful you are with sun protection today. Geography and climate play a role too, Australia leads the world in per capita melanoma rates.
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) is commonly found on skin exposed to the sun, such as the scalp, upper ears, face and shoulders. BCC’s account for over 80% of all skin cancers. They grow slowly and may take years to metastasise (spread to other parts of the body), but they will never the less continue to grow locally and aggressively destroy normal tissue, particularly with devastating results on the face. BCC’s can be very superficial in the layers of the skin. They can also become nodular and have a more aggressive growth phase. Other BCC’s can look very much like a slow healing scar. If allowed to progress the BCC will grow deeper through the skin eventually into the muscle and bone beneath.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) like Bcc is a non-melanoma skin cancer and it is the second most common type in the UK. Like basal cell carcinoma SCC is mostly found on sun exposed skin. Scalp, face, upper ears and shoulders, but unlike basal cell cancers that metastasise slowly, SCCs do so far more rapidly making it a more urgent form of cancer. SCCs can be very superficial in the skin but also have the potential to dive beneath the skin and grow through muscle and bone.