Monthly Health with Dr Phil Dyer


This month Heartlands Hospital’s Dr Dyer gives advice on skin cancer

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, with over one million cases diagnosed annually. The two most common cases found in Britain are classified as malignant melanoma, and non-melanoma.


Malignant melanoma is relatively rare, but is the cause of most deaths as the cancer can spread to other organs in the body. Non-melanoma skin cancer is usually very treatable and defined to specific parts of the body. The most common cause of these types of skin cancer is over exposure to UV-rays, which can be found in sunlight or on sunbeds.


The overexposure of UV rays causes a change in the cells of your skin that causes an uncontrolled rapid growth of cells, eventually producing a lump of tissue called a tumour. The main symptom of non-melanoma, the least serious, is the appearance of a bump or discoloured patch of skin that doesn’t heal, and can sometimes grow quite large. They can appear anywhere over the body, but usually appear on the face, neck or arms where skin is most exposed to sunlight.


If the bump shows no sign of healing within 14 days, it is advised to go and visit your doctor. Treatment for non-melanoma skin cancer will depend on the type, location and progression of the tumour. Malignant melanoma can appear anywhere on the body, but the back, legs and arms are the most common places, the first sign is the appearance of a new mole, or a change in an existing mole. It is very important, as soon as you notice something unusual, to go and visit your GP.


Usually it will be treated either by the cancer being surgically removed, which is likely to leave scarring, radiotherapy, which involves using low doses of radiation to destroy the cancerous cells, or chemotherapy which uses medicines to kill the cancerous cells, but this can only be used if only the top layer of skin is affected.


The best way to avoid skin cancer is to avoid over exposure to the skin from sunlight, cover up, or stay in the shade when the sun when is it at its strongest (between midday and two), use high SPF sun cream and don’t excessively use tanning beds. If you are worried about a bump or discoloured patch of skin, it is important to go and visit your GP who will be able to advise you or refer you on to a dermatology expert.

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