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Skin cancer is the most common form of human cancer. There are two main types of skin cancer: non-melanoma skin cancer, which is very common, and malignant melanoma which is less common but more serious.

There are approximately 100,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer in the UK each year and about 11,000 cases of malignant melanoma are diagnosed each year in the UK, but this number is rising rapidly (See "Mole Checking")

What causes skin cancer?

Sun exposure is the main cause of malignant melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers. Other factors that influence the risk of skin cancer are:

People with light eyes or hair, who sunburn easily or do not tan have an increased risk of skin cancer.

People with a lot of moles, unusually shaped or large moles, or a lot of freckles have a higher risk of melanoma.

A history of sunburn doubles the risk of melanoma and also increases the risk of non-melanoma skin cancer.

Use of sunbeds, especially by young people, increases the risk of skin cancer.

People with a previous non-melanoma skin cancer have a much higher risk of developing a second one.

People with a close relative diagnosed with skin cancer have a higher risk of developing it themselves.

The two main types of skin cancer

1) Non-malanoma skin cancer. This encompasses a number of different types of cancer some of which are quite rare but the two main types of non-melanoma skin cancer are Basal Cell Carcinoma (Sometimes known as a "Rodent Ulcer") and Squamous Cell Carcinoma.

More than 9 out of 10 (>90%) people with basal cell cancer are completely cured following treatment. 7 to 9 out of 10 (70 - 90%) people with squamous cell skin cancer are completely cured following treatment. As with most cancers, the cure rate for squamous cell cancer diagnosed at an early stage is even higher.

Click here to download Skin Cancer UK PDF

2) Malignant Melanoma. Is the most dangerous type of skin cancer and is increasing faster than any other cancer, with rates having more than quadrupled in the last thirty years. This is due largely to increasing affluence and access to holidays abroad as well as the increasing trend for sun-bed use. 1 in 3 Malignant Melanomas are in the under 50s and it is now the second commonest cancer in young adults aged 15 to 34.

Click here to download Melanoma PDF

When should you be concerned?

The most common warning sign of skin cancer is a change in the appearance of the skin, such as a new growth or a sore that will not heal or a change in a pre-existing skin lesion. In particular, the features of a mole which should make you seek an opinion urgently are: Any mole which gets bigger or gets darker or becomes more irregular at the edges or bleeds without trauma.

What you should do if you have concerns

In the first instance a visit to your GP should be considered. If however you feel that your concerns have not been adequately dealt with, then a visit to a specialist used to seeing skin cancers regularly should be sought. An appointment can be made with David Mowatt who would be happy to assess any lesion concerning you and either alleviate those concerns through reassurance or arrange biopsy and/or treatment.

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