Consultant Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeon

Skin Cancer

Skin cancers are due to the development of abnormal cells in the skin, which can change and utimately become cancerous.  There are three main types of skin cancers: Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC), Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) and Melanoma.

Skin Cancer Syringe, Paperwork & MedicineThe first two together along with a number of less common skin cancers are known as Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer (NMSC).

Basal Cell Carcinoma BCC grows slowly and can damage the tissue around it, but is unlikely to spread to distant areas or result in death. It often appears as a painless raised area of skin, that may be shiny with small blood vessel running over it or may present as a raised area with an ulcer (broken skin). Many patients have these for 1 year or more before they seek treatment. 

Squamous Cell Carcinoma SCC is more likely to spread, but most remain confined to the skin. It usually presents as a hard lump with a scaly top, but may also form an ulcer.

Melanoma GraphicMelanomas can be the most serious. Most develop as new moles, but 20-30% of melanomas develop from existing moles.

You shuld seek medical attention for any new mole, or a mole that has changed in some way – size, shape, colour, behaviour.

A new mole or one with irregular edges, or with more than one colour, or is itchy or bleeds should be checked by a doctor with specialist knowledge of skin cancer.

Greater than 90% of skin cancers are caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the Sun.  This exposure increases the risk of all three main types of skin cancer. Exposure has increased partly due to a thinner ozone layer. Skin Cancers are common in Irish, Celtic skin-types.

Tanning beds are another common source of ultraviolet radiation. Tanning-bed exposure during childhood is particularly harmful, and increases the risk of Melanoma and Basal Cell Carcinoma.

For Squamous Cell Carcinoma SCC, it is the total exposure, irrespective of when it occurs, which is more important. People with light skin are at higher risk as are those with poor immune function such as from medications or HIV/AIDS. Diagnosis is by biopsy.