• Melanoma is the most common type of skin cancer in young people
  • Melanoma usually (but not always) causes changes to moles
  • Having had radiotherapy treatment when you were younger can increase your risk of skin cancer
  • Protecting your skin from the sun can reduce your risk of skin cancer

What is skin cancer?

Melanoma is the most common skin cancer in young people and it starts in skin cells called melanocytes. It usually affects moles. 

Skin cancer can be caused by over exposure to the UV light that comes from the sun. UV light can also be found in sunbeds. 

There are other types of skin cancer which are less common in young people, you can find out more about these on the NHS website.  

I had cancer in the past – am I more at risk of skin cancer?

You’re more likely to get skin cancer if you had radiotherapy when you were younger.

Cancers can also develop in the skin that was treated with radiation.

What are the symptoms of skin cancer?

Diagnosing skin cancer early saves lives, so it’s really important to know what to look for.

Melanoma usually (but not always) causes changes to moles.

You should contact your GP if you have a mole that:

  • gets bigger
  • changes shape
  • has a blurred, rough or jagged outline
  • gets darker or red
  • has more than one colour in it
  • gets itchy or painful
  • gets crusty or bleeds.

How is skin cancer diagnosed?

There are two main tests used to find skin cancer.

A specialist might oil the area you’re worried about and then look at it using a dermatoscope – an instrument that magnifies the area.

You might need to have a biopsy, which is when a sample of the skin is taken, usually under local anaesthetic (where a small part of your body is numbed), and then looked at under a microscope for signs of cancer.

You can find out more in our Getting diagnosed section.

How do you treat melanoma skin cancer?

The treatment for melanoma depends on how advanced it is.

Catching it early means the mole is usually just removed, along with a surrounding area.

More advanced melanoma might be treated using chemotherapy, radiotherapy, targeted therapies (where drugs are used to shrink melanoma) or surgery – sometimes a combination of them all.

How do you protect your skin from skin cancer?

Looking after your skin now can help you avoid skin cancer in the future.

Follow these five simple steps to prevent skin damage:

  • Cover up – wear long sleeves, trousers or things like sarongs on hot days.
  • Use suncream – make sure it’s water resistant and at least factor 30
  • Wear a hat or cap – whatever style you like, it can help protect you from the sun
  • Wear sunglasses – your eyes need protection too
  • Stay in the shade – especially between 11am and 3pm.

You can find out more about how to stay safe in the sun here.  

This page was reviewed in 2024. It will reviewed again in 2027.

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