Here at the London Dermatology Centre we offer diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer. Skin cancers are separated into two categories – melanoma and non-melanoma. Skin cancers are related to cumulative sun exposure and most commonly present in the older population with a life-time’s history of sun exposure. However, with more of us spending an increasing amount of time outdoors and taking holidays abroad we are now seeing these tumours in patients in their 20's and 30's. Outdoor workers and people with fair complexions are particularly at risk.
Melanoma is the name given to a cancerous mole. It is considered to be the most serious type of skin cancer. Often, the first sign of a melanoma developing is the appearance of a new mole or a change in a previous mole’s shape, colour or size. The mole may also become itchy or bleed. It is important that any possible melanoma is picked up quickly as it can metastasise (spread) from the skin to other parts of the body causing cancer elsewhere.
Around 13,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed each year making it the 5th most common cancer in the UK. Unlike most other cancers, melanoma mainly affects those under 50 years of age. Melanoma kills more than 2000 people each year in the UK.
One of the main risk factors for developing melanoma is a family history of melanoma. You are also at increased risk of developing it if you have fair skin that burns easily, freckles, red hair or if you have a large number of moles. Those who have already had a melanoma in the past or have a weakened immune system are also at increased risk.
You can reduce your risk of dying from melanoma by checking your moles regularly. If you suspect any changes to an existing mole or are concerned about a new mole you should get it looked at by a Dermatologist. Our mole mapping service is a convenient way of keeping an eye on your moles as well as having them looked at by an experienced Dermatologist who will be able to tell you if any need further investigation. You can find more information about our mole mapping service here.
There are more than 100,000 non-melanoma skin cancers diagnosed each year in the UK.
Often, the first sign of non-melanoma skin cancer is the appearance of a lump or discoloured patch on the skin that continues to persist after a few weeks, and slowly progresses over months or sometimes years. Non-melanoma skin cancer affects more men than women and is more common in the elderly. It presents as either a skin coloured lump, a scaling lesion, an erosion that will not heal or an ulcerated lesion. Any such lesion requires immediate assessment by a medical practitioner. Dermatologists are specifically trained to diagnose such lesions by looking at them and if there is any doubt by performing a biopsy. The two main types of non-melanoma skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
Sometimes referred to as a rodent ulcer, the BCC originates from the cells lining the bottom of the epidermis layer of the skin. BCC is the most common type of skin cancer in the UK.
These cancers usually begin as small shiny lumps that have a pearl-like rim. Although the appearance of these cancers is variable, people often become aware of them as a scab that bleeds and does not heal completely. Many will just be lumps on the skin that were not there before and have the classic appearance of a raised pearly rim around a central crater. People sometimes notice these cancers when small blood vessels appear to grow over lumps in the skin. Left untreated, the BCC cancer will change in appearance and will become an ulcer. These cancers are often painless but can sometimes be itchy and bleed.
BCCs are usually treatable but this can be more difficult if the BCC has been left for a long time. Therefore it is important that if you think you might be at risk of BCC or you have a suspicious looking lump on your skin, that you get it looked at by a dermatologist. Here at the London Dermatology Centre we are able to offer appointments on short notice and get you treated as soon as possible.
The SCC is different from BCC and will often appear as a pink or red lump that is scaly or crusty. These are also variable in appearance but unlike BCCs can be tender to touch. SCCs are most common in sun exposed areas of skin such as the head, neck, ears and back of hand but can occur on any part of the body. Those with a history of sunburn, extensive sun exposure or are immunosuppressed are at a greater risk of developing this type of cancer.
SCCs need to be removed as they can sometimes spread cancer to other areas of the body. There is also a small possibility that it will reoccur. Therefore the sooner it is treated the more likely it is to be cured.
There are a number of different treatments available for the different types of skin cancer. The treatment you will need will depend on your type of cancer, the extent of the cancer and your current health. A dermatologist will be able to guide you to a treatment that is most suitable for you following a consultation, examination and possibly a biopsy of the suspicious lesion. Treatment options available include the use of special creams to kill the cancer cells, scraping the lesion away to the appropriate depth, cutting the lesion out, freezing the lesion with liquid nitrogen, using photodynamic therapy or occasionally radiotherapy. The choice of treatment will depend on the tumour type and the personal preference of the patient. In most cases we can offer same day treatment.
For more information regarding the skin cancer treatment service please contact us on 020 7467 3720.
Content by Dr Sunil Chopra and Rebecca Perris.