Most skin can­cers treat­able if caught early


SKIN cancer, one of the most com­mon forms of cancer in the Ire­land, can be di­vided into the fol­low­ing dif­fer­ent types: - Melanoma (ma­lig­nant melanoma). This type of skin cancer de­vel­ops from melanocytes. - Non-melanoma. These are about 20 times more com­mon than melanomas and are fur­ther di­vided into two main types: Basal cell car­ci­noma (BCC) - skin cancer which de­vel­ops from basal cells; Squa­mous cell car­ci­noma (SCC) - skin cancer which de­vel­ops from cells known as ker­atinocytes. BCC and SCC oc­cur mainly in white and fair-skinned peo­ple, rarely oc­cur­ring in dark-skinned peo­ple.


The first sign of a BCC is of­ten a small red, pink or pearly lump which ap­pears on pre­vi­ously nor­mal skin. Although the lump is of­ten dome­shaped, BCC’s can vary in shape and colour. They usu­ally grow very slowly and it can take many months for one to grow to a cen­time­ter or more. In time, the lump on the skin may crust over, ul­cer­ate or bleed. BCC’s very rarely spread (metas­ta­sise) to other parts of the body. How­ever, un­treated, they will con­tinue to grow lo­cally and can cause dam­age to nearby struc­tures. For ex­am­ple, a BCC on the face may erode and dam­age the nose or ear.


Like BCC’s, SCC’s are more com­mon in older peo­ple. A SCC typ­i­cally de­vel­ops on the face - most com­monly on or around the ears or lips. How­ever, any area of skin can be af­fected. They typ­i­cally start as a small crusted or scaly area on the skin. They may grow into a lump which may look like a wart. A SCC may ul­cer­ate or bleed from time to time. As a SCC grows larger and deeper, it dam­ages nearby struc­tures. A SCC may also spread (metas­ta­sise) to other ar­eas of the body. How­ever, this is un­com­mon in the early stages and most SCC are treated be­fore any spread oc­curs.


Melanomas are the least com­mon form of skin cancer. They are, how­ever, the most se­ri­ous form as they are the most likely form to spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma is twice as com­mon in young women as it is in young men. A typ­i­cal melanoma usu­ally starts as a small dark patch on the skin (sim­i­lar to a mole). It can de­velop from a nor­mal part of skin, or from an ex­ist­ing mole. A melanoma is of­ten dif­fer­ent to a mole in one or more of the fol­low­ing ways (summed up as ABCD) - that is:

- Asym­me­try - the shape of a melanoma is of­ten un­even and asym­met­ri­cal, un­like a mole which is usu­ally round and even.

- Bor­der - the bor­der or edges of a melanoma are of­ten ragged, notched or blurred. A mole has a smooth well-de­fined edge.

- Colour - the colour (pig­men­ta­tion) of a mel- anoma is of­ten not uni­form. It may con­tain 2-3 shades of brown or black. A mole usu­ally has one uni­form colour.

- Di­am­e­ter - the size of a melanoma is usu­ally larger than a nor­mal mole.

It is im­por­tant to note that some melanomas are not dark, and some melanomas are not typ­i­cal in how they look. As a melanoma grows on the skin it may itch, bleed, crust or ul­cer­ate.


FOR NON-MELANOMA SKIN CAN­CERS: The over­all cure rate is over 95%, even for ones which have been present for a long pe­riod of time. The larger they grow, how­ever, the more dif­fi­cult they are to treat. More ex­ten­sive surgery or other lo­calised treat­ments may be needed if they grow large or deep be­fore they are treated.

FOR MELANOMAS: The risk of spread to other parts of the body is high. This is why ur­gent, early treat­ment is vi­tal. An op­er­a­tion is usu­ally re­quired to re­move the melanoma. If it has al­ready spread to other ar­eas of the body then there is less chance of a cure. Treat­ments such as chemo­ther­apy, ra­dio­ther­apy or im­munother­apy may be used for melanomas which have spread.


Most skin can­cers are caused by ex­ces­sive ex­po­sure to the sun. We should all limit our sun ex­po­sure in the sum­mer months (or all year when in hot coun­tries nearer to the equa­tor) by:

- Stay­ing in­doors or seek­ing the shade as much as pos­si­ble be­tween the hours of 11am and 3pm.

- Cov­er­ing up with clothes and a wide­brimmed hat when you are out in the sun­shine.

- Ap­ply­ing sun­screen of at least sun pro­tec­tion fac­tor (SPF) 15 (SPF 30 for chil­dren or peo­ple with pale skin) which also has high ul­tra­vi­o­let A (UVA) pro­tec­tion.

For fur­ther in­for­ma­tion please visit www. or­skin­foun­da­

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