Skin Cancers

What is skin cancer?

There are several types of skin cancers. The commonest are basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and malignant melanoma. These are often related to sun exposure and some may have a genetic basis. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is often on the head and neck, and may look like a pinkish mole, pigmented growth or ulcer. They grow very slowly on the skin, and rarely spread to other organs. They are often treated successfully with skin surgery. Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) often looks like a scaly growth or ulcer which is increasing in size. It may spread to the nearby lymph nodes. Surgery is curative and may be combined with radiotherapy depending on the stage. Malignant melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer as they can spread very quickly to other organs in the body and become fatal. Melanoma may arise from any mole or even normal skin and not necessarily over sun exposed areas. Treatment depends on the depth and stage of melanoma and involves wide excision, with or without sentinel lymph node biopsy, PET scan for staging, and treatment with chemotherapy or immunotherapy for advanced stages.

How do I know if I have a skin cancer?

Diagnosis can be difficult for the layman. However, if any skin growth is growing, or causing itch, pain or bleeding, or if any ulcer is not healing, one should see a dermatologist for a skin check. Moles should be regularly monitored for the “ABCDE” changes of melanoma: A for Asymmetry, B for Border irregularity, C for Colour changes, D for Diameter increase and E for Evolving.

Who should get regular skin checks?

People with a past history or family history of skin cancer and those who have sun damaged skin should get a regular skin check by the dermatologist at least once a year. If you have a past history or family history of atypical (dysplastic) moles or melanoma, you should get a skin check once in 6 months.