GP Alice Fitzgibbon tackles some of the everyday health issue which may be impacting on your personal and professional lives. This month, it’s the second instalment of our focus on skincare.
By now, summer is truly here and the sun has been out at least some of the time. Last month was all about caring for skin and protecting it from the harmful rays of the sun. This month I’d like to cover what to look out for on yourself (and others!) that might be a sign of skin damage or skin cancer. Skin cancers are more common as you get older – damage to the skin builds up over the years.
There are two types of skin cancer – melanoma and non-melanoma. Non-melanoma skin cancers are not connected to moles. They occur on body parts that have been exposed to the sun, especially the head, face and arms. These skin cancers are curable with treatment and are much less likely to spread than melanomas. There are two main types: basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinomas (SCC). Basal cell carcinomas are very slow growing and often look like a shiny lump on the skin. They slowly get bigger and sometimes bleed, scab over or turn into an ulcer. Squamous cell carcinomas appear as firm pink lumps that have a crusted, rough surface. They can be tender, bleed and again turn into an ulcer. Squamous cell carcinomas are more likely to spread than basal cell carcinomas however both need to be treated either by removal of the cancer, or in some cases applying treatment to the skin directly using creams or freezing therapy. So, the message is that if you have any new skin lumps that are growing, becoming crusty, bleeding or have an area of ulceration: GET THEM CHECKED.
Melanoma skin cancers come next. According to Cancer Research figures, melanoma skin cancer is the 5th most common cancer in the UK. A staggering 86 per cent of these were preventable – limiting damage from the sun and ultraviolet radiation in sunbeds could have stopped these happening. There are more and more people being diagnosed with melanomas every year. If caught early, it can be treated and cured. If a melanoma is left untreated for too long then it can spread from the skin to other body organs and become very difficult to treat. This is why melanoma is the 20th most common cause of cancer deaths in the UK. Early identification and surgical removal is the best treatment.
So, it can be difficult to look at a mole and know if it is worrying. If you notice any of these ABCD changes then see your GP:
Asymmetry – is the mole a funny shape? Are the two sides the same?
Border – are the edges irregular or blurred rather than clear and well defined?
Colour – is it more than one colour? Are there different shades of black, brown, pink or red?
Diameter (size) – most melanomas are 6mm or more. If you notice any change in shape or size then it should be checked out.
Sometimes it is difficult to look at moles or lumps on our backs or in difficult to reach places. That’s why I suggest asking someone else to check the ones you cannot see yourself. If in doubt, or if you want to keep an eye on a mole, take a picture of it and again four weeks later. If you are worried about a mole or a change on your skin then seek advice from your GP. I haven’t put any pictures of skin cancers in this column because it can be very difficult to know just from looking at a picture if there is a skin cancer or not. That is why if you have concerns you should get checked out and your GP can refer onwards to a skin specialist, called a dermatologist, if needed. The best way to look after your skin and avoid skin cancer is to protect yourself from the sun and avoid sunbeds. It is never too late to start!