Skin Cancer Screening

What is Skin Cancer Screening?

Skin cancer is by far one of  the most common forms of cancer. Compared to other types of cancer, skin cancer is diagnosed unusually early. This is because it is mostly in visible places on your skin. It means that there is no national screening programme. Therefore, you should be aware of the symptoms of skin cancer to try and spot it early if necessary.

Dermatologists now offer a mole mapping skin cancer screening service that uses the latest technology to map out all moles on all of your body’s skin. It also produces and records high-res images of individual moles and assesses each mole to give it a cancer risk analysis score. Having mole mapping either each year or if any worrying visible changes to your skin are observed, allows your mole images to be compared. The computer can highlight those moles that are the same, which are new, and which are changing.

If skin cancer is suspected, a skin biopsy can accurately confirm a skin cancer diagnosis.

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is when abnormal skin cells grow out of control. Sun damage is the cause of most skin cancers. There are two main types of skin cancer. It is important to know the type of cancer you have so that you understand what to expect and your treatment options.

  • Melanoma – is the less common skin cancer but it is more dangerous. It is more likely to grow and spread than other skin cancers. Melanoma skin cancer starts in melanocyte skin cells that are found in the deeper layers of your epidermis (outer skin). Melanocytes produce melanin when your skin is exposed to the sun. Melanin is a brown pigment that makes your skin look darker. By using skin cancer prevention techniques, you can reduce your chance of getting melanoma skin cancer.
  • Non-melanoma – are the more frequently occurring skin cancers but rarely spread and are usually treatable. Non-melanoma skin cancer is a group of cancers that slowly develop in the upper layers of your skin. They are most likely to develop in skin parts that are exposed to the sun such as your head and neck. The main types of non-melanoma skin cancer are basal cell cancer (BSC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). There are some other rare types.

Symptoms of skin cancer

Symptoms for all types of skin cancer include a sore or area of skin that:

  • doesn’t heal within four weeks
  • looks unusual
  • hurts, itches, bleeds, crusts or scabs for more than four weeks

Melanoma symptoms

A new mole appearing or a gradual change in an existing mole such as shape, size or colour are the most common signs of melanoma. These moles can be anywhere on your body but are uncommon in areas protected from the sun, such as your scalp and buttocks. They are most frequently found on a man’s back or a woman’s legs.

Most often, melanomas are irregular in shape and have more than one colour. A melanoma mole may be bigger than benign moles, itchy or bleed.

Non-melanoma symptoms

Typically, the first sign of non-melanoma is a red and firm lump that may turn into ulcers or a discoloured, flat and scaly patch on your skin. These persist over a few weeks and progress slowly over months or sometimes years. Non-melanoma cancer often develops on sun-exposed skin, including your face, ears, hands, shoulders, upper chest and back.

You should visit your GP if you notice any possible skin cancer symptoms.

What is skin cancer screening and how long does it take?

There is no national screening programme for skin cancer. This is because skin cancer often develops in skin areas that are visible and exposed to the sun and are usually spotted by the patient.

It is therefore important to be aware of skin cancer symptoms. You should see your GP if you have any skin cancer symptoms or you are worried about a new or existing mole, lump, ulcer or patch of skin. They will refer you to a skin specialist if they’re unsure or suspect you have skin cancer.

A skin biopsy is a more accurate way to confirm the presence or absence of skin cancer. Performed under local anaesthetic a skin biopsy removes a small sample of your skin or part or all of the suspect mole. The sample is sent to a laboratory to check if it is cancerous.

The skin biopsy takes about 15 minutes to perform and results are usually back within two to three weeks. The biopsy results should tell your doctor what type of skin cancer you have and whether there is any chance of it spreading to other parts of your body.

If melanoma skin cancer is confirmed, you’ll usually have a wider area of skin removed to make absolutely sure that there are no cancerous cells are left behind in your skin.

If your doctor is concerned that your cancer has spread into other organs including your lymph nodes, bones or your blood, you will have further tests.

When is a skin cancer screen required and how often?

As there is no national skin cancer screening programme, it is important for you to see your GP or a skin specialist if you have any symptoms.

Checking your moles can be difficult if you have lots or if they are in hard to see areas such as your back and shoulders. Mole mapping can reliably check all of your moles for peace of mind.

It is advised that you have mole mapping each year or if you notice any changes to your skin. These new images can then be compared to the previous images and any changes identified

You can see a skin cancer doctor and request a skin cancer screening test at any age if you have cancer concerns.

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