GP Health Corner – Skin Cancer
In today’s GP health corner we discussed Skin Cancer.
We chose this important topic today as skin cancer is the 5th most common type of cancer in the UK.
Brightonian’s had an amazing weather over the summer months with a heatwave over the August bank holiday to finish off!
With all the sunshine comes the risk of radiation from the sun. The planet is getting warmer and with global warming high on the agenda, we know that our skin is getting more UV radiation than ever.
Skin cancer risk is correlated with UV radiation. Put in simplistic terms, the more the skin is exposed to the sun, the more likely we are to develop skin cancer. Other risk factors include smoking and a family history of skin cancer. Those with fairer skin and people who work outside such as gardeners, workmen, labourers or people who play outdoor sports such as cricket.
After a summer like the one we have had it is a good idea to examine your skin for any changes and seek help and advice if you find any areas of concern. NHS choices recommend that we check our skin once a month as part of our normal self-care regimen.
What Do Doctors Know About Skin Cancer?
Doctors know that if you can detect skin cancer easily- it’s visible so we can diagnose it quickly, sometimes just by examining you. When we are not sure, we can refer a patient to a specialist skin doctor to excise (remove) the suspicious area of skin and send it off to be examined by histologists.
We also know that if detected early skin cancer can be treated and even cured. Undiagnosed skin cancer can lead to complications and even be fatal.
Advice from Dr Sloan:
It is always important to ask your GP to look at your moles and areas of abnormal skin. Here is a check list of what to look for which can help you decide whether or not you need to go to the GP:
1) If there a new freckle or mole on your skin
2) If an old mole or skin lesion becomes bigger or starts to look different (see ABCDE below)
3) If you are really freckly or have lots of moles and want to have a check-up as you don’t feel confident to keep a check on them all
4) If you have a skin lesion or mole that starts to feel itchy, bleed or if there is a non-healing ulcer or spot that does go away after 3-4 weeks
If you are worried about any other changes taking place on your skin, it is best to get them checked by your GP!
What Do I Need to Know About Skin Cancer?
The most common type of skin cancer is called Basal cell carcinoma.
These are also known as rodent ulcers. They have a pearly rim around a central crater (which can look like an inverted volcano). They normally affect the skin exposed areas of the body such as head, face, ears, neck, chest, back, arms and legs.
What will the GP do if they diagnose me with a basal cell carcinoma?
Basal cell carcinomas are very slow-growing. Sometimes they can bleed or be irritated.
Dr Sloan says: “I often treat these lesions in my practice. I tend to use a cream called 5-FU or I freeze them using cryotherapy. If I don’t feel confident to remove them, or if I want a second opinion, I will send the patient to a dermatology specialist doctor who may excise them using curettage.
They aren’t normally associated with ill health and don’t spread to other parts of the body, so we can treat them safely in the community.”
The 2nd most common skin cancer is squamous cell cancers.
They can look like scaly or raised warty lesions with a red inflamed base. Sometimes they are called Bowen’s disease.
They most commonly affect the places of the body that are exposed to the sun- head, face, neck, chest, arms and legs but they can affect any area of the body.
Although rare, they do have the potential to spread and cause harm to people, so GPs normally refer to these skin cancers to be removed surgically and sent for analysis.
They are slow-growing and are normally successfully treated without the need for further treatment, although in approximately 2-10% of cases they may need some further treatment with radiotherapy to try to stop them disseminating into other parts of the body.
The most common type of melanoma is superficial spreading melanoma, and approximately 70% of all melanomas fit into this classification. They are more common in people with pale skin, in those that have more sun exposure and can spread to other parts of the body, which can be fatal. Initially, they tend to grow outwards before they start to spread deeper and cross the basement membrane of the skin into the body. This is why it is so important to detect them early and seek help as soon as you suspect it could be a melanoma.
Other types of melanoma are less common, but it is important to be looking out for lumps or lesions that are growing quickly changing colour or shape, or becoming associated with itching, oozing or bleeding.
Can melanoma be cured?
Approximately three-quarters of melanomas can be treated and cured, but treatment must occur before they spread to the deeper layers of the skin or spread to other areas of the body. If this happens then it is possible that a patient will need more cancer treatment. The thinner the melanoma is when it is removed, the better the survival rate.
There are treatments to help curb the disease if it has spread such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
How Do I Examine My Moles
Always follow the ABCDE of examining your moles, this is what we do in General Practice and is a helpful guide to follow. If you have any of A-E, you must book into see your GP:
What Can I Do To Prevent Myself From Being Affected By Skin Cancer?
Dr Sloan says: “the best way to prevent yourself from getting skin cancer is to cover up. This means wearing high factor SPF sun cream over the summer and to wear SPF all year round if you can. Many foundations and moisturisers contain SPF and they are worth using. Always wear a hat to give your head and face as much shade from the sun as possible and never use sunbeds or sun lamps.
Don’t forget to send your children to school with sun cream and sun hats from May to September.”