What are the main types of skin cancer?
There are several types of skin cancer. They are commonly divided into melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers.
Melanomas are not as common as non-melanoma skin cancers, but they are usually more dangerous. Melanomas develop when the skin pigment cells become cancerous and multiply in an uncontrolled manner.
Non-melanoma skin cancers are typically not as aggressive, as they are less likely to spread to other parts of the body. Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most common, whilst another common type is Squamous Cell Carcinoma, which is more dangerous as it is the more likely spread to other areas of the body.
Who is at risk of developing melanoma?
Some people are more at risk of developing skin cancer than others. Your genes, which are connected to your skin phenotype or hair colour, are the main factor in your risk of developing skin cancer. People who burn easily in the sun are at increased risk of skin cancer, so people with fair skin are at high risk. People with red hair are at very high risk.
Other high-risk groups include:
- People who have used indoor tanning beds
- Those with a family history of melanoma or who have already had melanoma before
- People with more than 25 moles or more than one unusual mole
- People with one or more blistering or painful sunburns under the age of 30
- People who have an outdoor job or regular outdoor hobby who do not use sun protection all the time
- People with a damaged immune system
What are the signs of melanoma?
Melanomas commonly appear on the skin but they are most common in men on the upper body, and in women on the legs and arms. In adults, 70 percent of melanoma cases are not associated with existing moles but appear as new marks or moles on the skin, rather than as changes to an existing mole.
Any changes to your skin and moles can be a concern, but in particular, look out for moles with the following characteristics:
- Growing size
- Changing shape
- Developing new colours
- Red around the edges
Any mole that just looks wrong and different from your other moles may be a cause for concern. These ‘ugly ducklings’ should be checked.
How is melanoma diagnosed and treated?
You should tell your doctor about any changes to a mole or patch of skin, or a new mole or mark on adult skin. A thorough assessment can be made by close examination of the skin using a special tool called a dermatoscope and then a final diagnosis can be made by biopsy and microscopic examination if things look concerning.
Treatment of melanoma is normally by surgery. The melanoma and a surrounding area of skin will be removed. If the melanoma has spread to other areas of the body that can be removed, such as the lymph nodes, these will also be surgically removed. In more advanced stages, where the melanoma is more widely spread, medication is used to slow the spread of the cancer and reduce symptoms.
Why is it so important to keep an eye on your skin?
The simple answer is that it could save your life as most skin cancers can be cured if detected early. The survival rates of melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer, are dramatically improved if a melanoma is detected early. When melanomas are not caught early and have invaded into the deeper layers of the skin or moved to other parts of the body, the survival rates drop alarmingly.
So, if skin cancer is caught early, it’s far more treatable.
How often should you screen your skin for changes?
About once a month, check your skin for moles or marks that are changing or new.
What are the different methods or criteria that can be used to self-check for melanoma?
You can’t self-check for melanoma. You should always visit your doctor if you are concerned about anything on your skin.
What you can do is to learn about the signs of skin cancer and, about once a month, check your skin and moles for changes.
The Melanoma Institute Australia recommends ‘the best way to monitor changes on your skin is by taking photographs every few months and comparing them to identify any changes. React quickly if you see something growing and/or changing.’
How can taking photographs of spots on the body help to monitor skin abnormalities?
Photographs provide a record of how the skin and moles appear and so allow changes to be more easily detected. Without photos, it can be very difficult to remember how a mole looked a month or so ago, especially if you have many moles to consider. It can also be hard to determine if a mole is new or not if you have a high number of moles and in areas that are hard to see.
Miiskin have created an app to help people track changes to skin and moles over time by using photographs. It provides reminders to routinely check for changes and information about the types of things to look for. In addition, the app assists the user in comparing photographs over time by allowing side-by-side image comparisons. This helps people to identify differences between photos, such as the appearance of a new mole or a change to an existing one.
How accurate are apps for assessing skin cancer?
Smartphone apps cannot currently assess a mole or diagnose skin cancer. If you have concerns about a mole or mark on your skin, you should get it checked by a doctor without delay.
How can skin cancer be prevented?
Exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the main preventable cause of skin cancer. Protection from the radiation from the sun and especially UV-tanning beds, are the main ways to prevent skin cancer. Use clothing and a hat, sunglasses to protect the eyes, SPF 30+ sun cream and the shade as much as possible.
In addition, learn about the risk factors and signs of skin cancer and regularly check your skin. Watch out for new marks or moles and any changes to existing moles and tell your doctor without delay if you notice any worrying changes.
Visit miiskin.com/articles for more information about skin cancer.