Cancer is a very emotive word and when people hear the diagnosis of cancer they understandably will conjure images of prolonged unpleasant treatment and poor prognosis.
However, when it comes to skin cancer, it can cover a range of different types of cancer from the relatively mild form which can be cured by minor surgery, through to the more aggressive types which can carry with them a poor prognosis.
There are three main types of skin cancer and they can usually be distinguished on their clinical appearance:
- first is a BCC basal carcinoma
- next an SCC squamous cell carcinoma,
- and the other is malignant melanoma.
Malignant melanoma is in a category of its own, which is why the other types of skin cancer are sometimes known as the non-melanoma skins cancers.
They usually look quite different in that BCCs and SCCs are red patches of dry crusty skin which can be confused with a spot that does not heal up.
They sometimes ulcerate and may bleed or itch.
Melanoma on the other hand tends to be a pigmented lesion, in that it is brown, can start in an existing mole, or present as a new mole.
It is usually identified by a change in a mole and it becomes bigger, smaller, or starts itching or bleeding.
They are both due to sun exposure (this is why I keep going on about having SPF on a daily basis not just when it is sunny outside).
However, melanoma is more associated with sunburn, particularly sunburn as a child, but it is very common in sunny climates like Australia.
BCC and SCC are more associated with chronic sun exposure and because our skin is exposed to the sun all the time, over the years this sun exposure can take its toll, which is why BCCs and SCCs are more common the older we get and it is also why they are more common in sun exposed areas such as the face.
Melanoma is at one end of the spectrum and it can be quite a significant disease.
It can spread rapidly and can be associated with a very poor prognosis which is why if you have any moles that you are worried about you will need to get them checked out on an urgent basis.
On the other hand, BCCs and SCCs which do not tend to look like moles but more like red patches of skin or spots and can sometimes be confused as insect bites, are less aggressive, with BCCs being milder than SCCs.
BCC and SCC can often be cured by removing them and may only involve a minor operation with the main aim to make sure that they are removed completely and if they are completely removed then they may need no further treatment.
This is why they have to be excised and you should not consider other treatment such as curettage or shave because removal of normal skin all the way round and deep to the lesion needs to be attained in order to ensure they have been completely removed.
If you are concerned, then the bottom line is if you have any changes or are worried about it, then you should go to your GP or come and see us to get things checked out.
We will let you know if there is anything to worry about or whether you can simply just keep an eye on things.
Do not panic if you get a diagnosis of skin cancer because it might be one of the milder forms such as BCC which really is not what we normally associate with cancer because once BCCs are completely excised, they do not need any further treatment.
You simply just have to keep an eye out for further lesions because once you have had one you are at a higher risk of getting others.
It is important that we are all vigilant with our skin, look out for any moles or spots that are changing, and as always prevention is better than cure, so be sensible in the sun, keep covered up, use suntan lotion and regularly re-apply it, and without wanting to sound like a broken record, consider incorporating SPF into your daily regime of skin care.
Play safe in the sun.