What to look out for
There are several different types of cancer which can affect the skin. The most common are non-melanoma cancers (basal and squamous cancers). These tend to affect older people and are very common and are highly treatable.
Melanoma skin cancer is the 6th most common cancer in Scotland and the number of cases is increasing. Finding it early makes it easier to treat and improves your chance of survival.
So if you notice anything unusual on your skin that doesn’t go away in four weeks, show it to your doctor. This could include:
- A spot or sore that does not heal.
- A spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, scab, crust or bleed.
- Areas where the skin has broken down, become an ulcer and does not heal.
- A new or changing pigmented line in a nail or anything growing under a nail.
Keep an eye on any moles you have
Melanoma may arise in an existing mole so it’s important to check for changes in any moles you have or check for new moles on a regular basis. You can find out more in this examination of moles leaflet.
Make an appointment to visit your GP practice and get checked as soon as possible if you notice a mole that is:
- Getting bigger.
- Changing shape, particularly if it’s getting an irregular edge.
- Changing colour – especially getting darker, becoming patchy or multi-shaded.
- Losing symmetry – the two halves of your mole do not look the same.
- Being itchy or painful (for over 4 weeks).
- Bleeding or becoming crusty (for over 4 weeks).
- New and looks different from your other moles.
It might help to take a photograph of anything unusual you notice so it can be checked for change over time.
Remember, there are lots of skin conditions, so if you notice any of these symptoms listed above, it doesn’t mean it's cancer. But you should see your GP because whatever it is, the earlier it’s checked, the better.
Most skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun because the ultraviolet light in sunlight damages the DNA in your skin cells. This may be the result of long term exposure, or of short periods of intense sun exposure.
Your risk of developing non-melanoma skin cancer increases with age, but skin cancers can develop in younger people too.
A specialist’s view
If caught early, melanoma skin cancer is treatable. If a melanoma skin cancer is not caught early it can be very difficult to treat. The 5-year survival rate for someone with a melanoma that is caught early is approximately 95%. If a melanoma is not caught early the 5-year survival rate can drop to approximately 50%.
Melanoma skin cancer can be a new mole that develops on the skin or an existing mole that changes. It is important that you examine your skin every month to check for any new or changing moles. If you have any concerns you should contact your GP.
Dr Megan Mowbray, Consultant Dermatologist NHS Fife, skin cancer lead NHS Fife, Scottish Skin Cancer Group secretary
- There are two types of skin cancer: malignant melanoma is less common but more serious; non-melanoma cancer is very common but less likely to be so serious.
- In 2017, 1,229 cases of malignant melanoma were diagnosed in Scotland.
- If sun bed use is started under the age of 35, the risk of melanoma is almost doubled (source British Medical Journal).
- Skin cancer is more common in fair skinned people because they have less of the protective pigment called melanin.
Getting checked – what’s involved
Some people put off going to their GP surgery because they think they’ll be wasting their GP’s time. Your doctor won’t think that – they want to see you if you’re worried about potential symptoms.
It’s always best to get checked early. You’re GP will listen carefully to your concerns and depending on your symptoms they may:
- Be able to reassure you.
- Examine the area closely.
- Monitor for change over time.
- Refer you to a specialist.
If your GP explains that they are referring you to hospital via the Urgent Suspicion of Cancer referral process, reading this leaflet may give you additional helpful information.
Do you know the common signs and symptoms to look out for?