There are two main types of skin cancer:
- Malignant Melanoma - the most serious type of skin cancer
- Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer - more common and easily treated
Malignant melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. It usually develops in cells in the outer layer of the skin. The first visible signs of this may be a change in the normal look or feel of a mole.
The latest statistics from Cancer Research show that there were 12,818 new cases of malignant melanoma in the UK and the incidence of melanoma has gone up by more than four times since the 1970s. Rates of melanoma have risen faster than for any other cancer in the UK and is the third most common cancer in 15-24 year old females, accounting for 16% of the total. Overall malignant melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in 15-24 year olds, accounting for 11% of the total cancers in this age-group.
Non-melanoma skin cancer is much more common than melanoma but it is easily treated. There were 99,549 new cases in 2010 in the UK but as not all cases are recorded, this figure could be higher. The most common cause of skin cancer is exposure to too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation found in the sun’s rays and sunbeds. It is often the damage done to the skin when young that leads to skin cancer in later life.
Noticing the signs of skin cancer
The earlier skin cancer is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat so it’s important to look out for changes to your skin that could be a sign of cancer.
Most people have moles or dark patches on their skin and normally these will be harmless. However, if they change, this could be a sign of skin cancer. Look out for any of the following changes and if you notice anything unusual, visit your doctor.
- A new growth or sore that won’t heal
- A spot, mole or sore that itches or hurts
- A mole or growth that bleeds, is crusty or forms a scab
SIGNS THAT TELL YOU A MOLE MAY HAVE CHANGED
- The two halves of your mole look different
- The edges of your mole are irregular, blurred or jagged
- There is more than one colour or shade in your mole
- Your mole is wider than 6mm (size of a pea) in diameter
Phoebe, 22 from Wolverhampton, was 20 when she was diagnosed with skin cancer.
Being pale-skinned, Phoebe suffered sunburn a few times over the years, more so as she had got older and it was then her responsibility rather than her mum’s to buy or apply suncream. Phoebe never gave getting sunburnt a second thought.
"It was an expected side effect of going abroad or sitting in the garden at home. In fact, I remember joking when I got sunburnt in Florida that I'd probably get skin cancer one day! I rarely sunbathed because I found it so boring, so I'd forget to put on suntan lotion when out and about. When I did wear it, I'd apply it first thing in the morning and not bother doing it again for the rest of the day, even after swimming. However I never used sunbeds."
Phoebe first noticed an angry red lump on her left forearm in September 2010. "It wasn't painful, but one day I accidentally knocked it and it bled for an hour-and-a-half. It didn't look right, but my GP told me it was nothing to worry about and I was referred to a skin specialist."
The lump was removed a month later but in the following days the wound started bleeding and oozing pus. Phoebe had some routine tests and was horrified to hear six weeks later that she had skin cancer.
Phoebe was treated at Castle Hill Hospital in Hull where she underwent surgery and had to have a skin graft from her thigh. It was then, doctors discovered Phoebe’s cancer had spread to the lymph nodes in her armpit and these were all removed leaving a small hole and a further scar. Thankfully, after a third operation, examinations showed no further traces of cancer and Phoebe went back to university where she was studying music.
A while later, Phoebe found another chick peasized solid lump near her elbow. "I knew immediately something was wrong. I'd been told to watch out for any unusual lumps and bumps, so I went straight back to the hospital. They removed it the next day and doctors explained it was an 'in transit reccurrence,' which means it was part of the original tumour that had been removed. It was frightening that it had recurred so quickly. It was a stage 3C melanoma, one of the most serious types."
Phoebe currently does not need any further surgery but regularly checks her skin for unusual lumps and bumps and goes for check-ups every three months and CT scans for 6 months which will last for ten years. As result of the various surgery she has lost all feeling and strength in her left arm due to nerve damage and has a foot long scar.
Phoebe believes getting sunburnt was silly and avoidable and supports Teenage Cancer Trust’s annual sun safety campaign Shunburn.